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From his earliest days John Wanamaker 
was a voluminous writer. His first manu- 
scripts were the lessons prepared for Bethany 
Sunday School in 1858, and he continued to 
write on many subjects to the very end. His 
pioneer work transformed the writing of ad- 
vertisements. When he reached middle life 
he began to write on municipal, state, and 
national political issues. The record of his 
participation in the Cabinet of Benjamin 
Harrison was preserved in the annual reports 
of the Postmaster General to the President. 
Many of his notable speeches in Pennsylvania 
political campaigns were published in book 
form by a league of Philadelphia business 
men. In his later years he wrote several thou- 
sand daily Store editorials. Throughout his 
long career he carefully prepared, and gen- 
erally wrote in long-hand, his speeches before 
they were delivered. And they were speeches 
on all sorts of subjects. 

But he did not write books. His life was 
a dailtf outpouring. It was not strange, then, 



that his writings should be of the moment for 
the moment. No man of his time had greater 
vision, and saw more clearly the future. But 
he lived day by day. 

The character of John Wanamaker, 
coupled with the tremendous demands made 
upon his time each day, makes all the more 
remarkable the little biographical sketch of 
a friend which we are publishing five years 
after John Wanamaker's death, twenty years 
after the sketch was written, and nearly forty 
years after the death of its subject. 

Isaiah V. Williamson was of the genera- 
tion preceding John Wanamaker. But he 
honored the younger man with his friendship 
and trust, and the younger man admired him 
and saw the great soul of Williamson when 
others went no farther than to be amused 
about and criticize the old philanthropist's 
habits of economy. So much that was legen- 
dary grew up around the name of Isaiah V. 
Williamson that John Wanamaker deter- 
mined to write the life of his friend. It was 
a big undertaking for a busy merchant. But 
he went about it with his usual thoroughness 
and patient attention to detail. Gradually the 



materials for a life of Williamson were 
gathered; and then the life was written. In 
its original form it was a considerably larger 
manuscript. John Wanamaker cut it down; 
and parts of it he recast. Then he put it aside. 
It was found among his papers — the only 
book-length manuscript that he had written. 

It is not for this reason, however, that it is 
being published. We feel that the life of 
Isaiah V. Williamson should be known to this 
generation. The little book is a message to 
young men, written by one man who had 
achieved success, about another man who had 
achieved success before he did. But neither 
the subject of the biography, nor its author, 
had any thought for success in the worldly 
meaning of that word. Nor did they measure 
their life work by the money they had accu- 
mulated and the position they had won among 
their fellows by reason of the power that 
money gave them. 

Honest living, honest thinking, and a pas- 
sion for service are the characteristics of 
Isaiah V. Williamson brought forth in this 
little book. The biographer's enthusiasm for 
and keen sympathy with the man about whom 



he writes could only have been possible 
through sharing his subject's ideals. There is 
inspiration in this book for those who want 
the ideals of Isaiah V. Williamson and John 
Wanamaker to be theirs. 



I. The Background i 

II. The Preparation 15 

III. Early Years in Philadelphia 29 

IV. Seeing the World 48 

V. At the Cross-Roads 55 

VI. Philanthropy His Real Business 65 

VII. Development of the Williamson School 

Idea 93 

VIII. Founding the Williamson School 118 

IX. The Little Man of Large Soul 136 


Isaiah V. Williamson frontispiece 


The Old Homestead of Mahon and Charity 
Williamson 4 

Meeting House, Hicksite Friends, Fallsing- 
ton, Penna 16 

The Orthodox Meeting House and School 
Building in the Rear 16 

The Gillingham Store, Fallsington, Penna. . 22 

Administration Building and Campus 126 

Industrial Buildings 130 

Apprentices' Dormitories 130 

Apprentices at Inspection 134 

A Class of Apprentices 134 




we begin. You never heard of it? That 
is not to be wondered at, for there was 
nothing to star it on the map until a 
few years ago. Even now, though it 
lies along the Delaware River between Phila- 
delphia and Trenton, it is thought of as an 
out-of-the-way farming region, in old Bucks 
County, Pennsylvania, celebrated for old- 
fashioned, straightforward, well-living farm- 
ers, chiefly of Quaker ancestors, who, accord- 
ing to tradition, remain county-contained and 
still vote for Andrew Jackson at the quad- 
rennial Presidential elections. 

Bensalem is not a railroad center. The 
trains simply hurry by on their way to and 
from New York. Neshaminy Creek, which 
forms its northern boundary, is not deep 


enough to make it a shipping point. Mills, 
factories, and mines, which give importance 
to a region and bring it in touch with the 
outside world, are not to be found within its 

But it has a greatness all its own that will 
abide and enlarge as time goes on, because of 
a lad born in old Bensalem more than a hun- 
dred years ago. Men are living who knew 
him when he was little and who proudly saw 
him grow to an honored manhood. They had 
been unwilling to leave to old scrapbooks of 
desultory and disconnected newspaper clip- 
pings the telling of the story of his life. 
Therefore, it has been possible to go among 
them and to jot down what they have said of 
Isaiah Williamson. It is well worth while to 
collect the notes, and put them in authentic 
permanent form for the sake of the thousand 
and sixteen boys who at this writing 1 have 
already felt his influence in their lives. 2 We 

1 Probably in May, 1907. 

s The author is referring to Williamson's great philanthropy 
— the trade school that bears his name. The 1016th apprentice was 
enrolled on April 17, 1907. At the end of 1927 the number of 
indentures had reached 2293. In the history of the school 
"over 10,000 applications have been made for admission to the 
benefits of Mr. Williamson's philanthropy," stated President 
Pratt on November 16, 1927. 



are moved to do this also for the sake of the 
tens of thousands more, just beginning to 
live, who cannot but be influenced for good 
when they read of this poor country boy. 
There is inspiration in the story of the Ben- 
salem lad who, in a simple way, amassed a 
great fortune and used it wisely during his life 
by sinking wells and safeguarding them, that 
their life-giving streams might flow on 
through the ages to come. 

Let us go back to old Bensalem, whose 
queer name breathes benediction and peace. 
We shall keep on a straight turnpike with our 
story, which will best be told as simply as 

On a late summer afternoon, not so very 
long ago, two old friends, rather up in 
years, stopped as they were walking along a 
road in Bensalem Township. The man of 
smaller stature, not more than five feet, six 
inches in height, thin and rather bent of shoul- 
ders, paused to point out to his comrade of 
early years a one-and-a-half story weather- 
beaten farmhouse. The man whose little 
kindly hand pointed out the old house said to 
his friend, as they stood together on Clover 


Hill, " Under the roof of that house is where 
I first opened my eyes." The speaker was 
Isaiah Vansant Williamson, who, with his 
old friend, had gone back to see kinsfolk and 
friends in the region of his birthplace and 
childhood, and to stand once more near the 
early home of the beloved mother who long 
before had journeyed on. One of the richest 
men in Pennsylvania, one of the most influen- 
tial in the great city where he lived, began 
his life in that wooden house. There he lived 
until he was four years old. In 1807, his 
parents, Mahlon and Charity Williamson, 
moved their family to the old homestead in 
Falls Township, the other side of Bristol, 
near Trenton, where Isaiah's grandparents 
had lived. 

This century-old farmhouse, about four 
miles from the village of Fallsington, appears 
today pretty much as it did when Mahlon and 
Charity Williamson were rearing a family 
there. After nearly four score years Isaiah 
Williamson was neither afraid nor ashamed 
to go back to Bensalem and Falls, and to take 
with him those with whom he had been asso- 
ciated in later years. This was because he had 



been an honest boy of good conduct, and be- 
cause he had lived true to his father's and 
mother's principles and instructions after he 
had moved away into the city. It was only an 
afternoon's ride from Philadelphia, and he re- 
turned frequently to meet the friends of his 
youth and early manhood. These old friends 
stopped to speak to him as he passed along the 
country roads making his visits. They called 
him " I. V.," just as they had done in the early 
days, and they said to each other, as they went 
along after the greeting, that " I. V." was 
" just the same — money has not changed him 
a speck." 

How could he be other than the sunny- 
faced, gentle-mannered, softly-spoken man he 
had been from the beginning, when his man- 
ners, when his gifts came to him as birthday 

He was " the grand old man " to the 
country friends, who knew him through and 
through. Did he not remember them and 
call them by their first names, asking for the 
man who broke his leg or lost his sick horse 
and had to be helped out of some distressing 


trouble? And was it not done without any- 
one knowing from whom the person in 
trouble received help? About the only hatred 
this true, good Quaker had was " publicity." 
For that matter, everybody said this much of 
him, but sadly enough the city people did not 
stop at that, and though he was persistently 
criticized, the man does not live who ever 
heard Isaiah Williamson speak ill of anyone. 

Did they not all know that city life and 
money had not spoiled him, though he had 
gone off early from the Bucks County farm, 
where he had his first start and entered the 
village store, and from that ladder, as others 
have done, climbed up to the city business? 
In his later days, he became a farmer again — 
a money farmer; he ploughed for it, planted 
for it, kept close personal touch on his finan- 
cial fields of growing crops and from the wise 
planting and steady watch, reaped great har- 
vests; yet he did not build his life upon it or 
let the money twist his life into personal 
aggrandizement, politics or speculation. He 
never cornered the stock market; he never 
helped to lock up money, as his vast wealth 
would have enabled him to do; he never 



profited by questionable transactions within 
the companies of which he was a director, by 
absorption of other companies, freezing out 
the unasserting and helpless minorities. 

He was a well-born man. Let the young 
fellow of good ancestry never forget that he 
starts with what the lack of to many another 
is a lifelong handicap. It is a great thing for 
any man to be well-born. 

Isaiah Vansant Williamson found in his 
early years that he had much to be proud of 
in his ancestry, and doubtless his resolve not to 
do anything to tarnish the memory of their 
honorable and useful lives held him firmly to 
the upright course of life that marks every 
footstep of his long and busy days. 

Because it has been thought and said that 
the people from whom he sprang were insig- 
nificant as well as poor, it is necessary to set 
forth at some detail what is known of these 
Williamsons that settled in Bucks County 
nearly two hundred and fifty years ago. Hard- 
working they were, indeed, but fairly edu- 
cated themselves, they educated their children 
and trained them to the good-living, common 
in all the Quaker homes of that period, no 


matter how humble; and it was a healthy 
atmosphere for a boy to grow up in that large 
family of eight children, making a little 
world of itself in the farmhouse, with its dairy 
and barns, smokehouse and toolhouse, cattle, 
and chores for the six boys and two girls to 
do. The schoolwork, too, had to go on in the 
wintertime. The long evenings for lessons 
and talk around roaring fires of wood-logs 
burning in the great fireplace, near the old 
clock which Grandfather Peter brought from 
England, sixty-odd years before, and their 
father, Mahlon, recounting often, doubtless, 
the events of those Revolutionary days, when 
the British came up the Delaware and fired a 
cannon at their grandfather's house, at Penn 
Manor 3 ; and Isaiah's father was a baby in 
that old cradle, in yon corner, when a cannon 
ball struck the doorstep and bounced over the 
cradle without hitting anything — and there 
that same cannon ball was lying in their sight, 
on the strong corner shelf of their home room. 
That cannon ball is missing today, but the old 

8 The incident referred to occurred when Peter Williamson 
was living at Beverly, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware, 
and not at Penn Manor. An armed barge threw a six-inch shot 
into the house, which passed just over the head of Mahlon. 



clock and the cradle are with Jesse's son, 
Edward, in his home at Morrisville, Bucks 
County, Pennsylvania. 4 

A sturdy clean Scotchman was the founder 
of the Williamson family in America. Dunck 
Williames, as he spelled his name in the 
earliest records, arrived in New England, 
probably in 1660. His name is to be seen on 
the list of passengers sailing from Taunton, 
Massachusetts, in 1661, to the Block Island 
Plantations, afterwards included in Rhode 
Island. Later, in 1667, with his wife, Wallery, 
he settled on the Delaware River below what 
is now Trenton, nearly fifteen years before 
the advent of William Penn. It was just after 
the Dutch rulers had been expelled from New 
Amsterdam. The Delaware Valley had long 
been a bone of contention between Swedes 
and Dutch, in which the Dutch got the upper 

But many English and Scotch settlers 
must have already been in the country, be- 
cause the earliest records at Upland (now 

'Edward Williamson died on October 10, ion* The clock 
is in possession of a niece, Mrs. H. B. Harper, of Trenton j 
and the cradle is in the Frank Williamson home, in Lancaster. 


Chester) under English jurisdiction (1676) 
show a number of names of undoubted Eng- 
lish and Scotch origin. " Dunck " was a con- 
traction of Duncan, and the " Williames " 
soon became Williamson. Duncan Williamson 
must have had some influence with the Court 
of St. James, for at the time of his arrival he 
was able to join with eight others in obtain- 
ing title to a tract known as Passyunk, and 
thus became one of the first settlers to get title 
in the Philadelphia area. The patent was 
granted by Governor Richard Nichols, in 
1667. On July 18, 1676, Governor Sir Edmund 
Andros granted to Duncan Williamson and 
Francis Walker four hundred and fifty acres 
on the lower side of Neshaminy, in the present 
limits of Bensalem Township. 6 This land 
extended back from the river. Williamson 
established a ferry across to New Jersey, which 
still bears his name. On the Jersey side, at 
Beverly, some of his descendants settled. 

The first Williamson's name is on the list 
of " Tydable persons under jurisdiction of the 
court," as belonging to Taokanink (now 

* These grants were afterwards confirmed by William Penn. 



Tacony), in 1677. In November, 1678, he 
served on the jury at Upland Court. This is 
supposed to be the first jury empaneled in 
what later became Pennsylvania. 

The records show that on November 12, 
1678, Dunck Williames petitioned to take up 
one hundred acres " on the lower syde of 
Nieshambenies Creek, 50 acres thereof att ye 
river syde and ye other 50 acres up in the 
woods." The next year, on March 12, 1679, 
he petitioned to take up four acres of marsh 
back of his " plantaceion." 

Duncan Williamson died in 1699, and was 
buried in the Williamson family burying- 
ground in Bensalem Township, about three 
miles from Bristol. But the name of " Dunk's 
Ferry " has persisted to this day. 6 Something 
like a century later it occurs, for instance, in 
one of General Washington's letters during 
the Revolution. 

" Head Quarters, Trenton Falls, 
"Sir: 10th December, 1776. 

" Yours of last evening reached me at 4 o'clock this 
morning. I immediately sent orders to Commodore 
Seymour to despatch one of his gallies down to Dunk's 

■ The c in Dunck has been dropped. 


Ferry, and I shall dispose of the remainder in such manner 
and at such place as will be most likely not only to 
annoy the Enemy in their Passage but to give the earliest 
Information of any attempt of that kind. 

" George Washington. 

" To Hon'ble Thomas Wharton, Junr., Esqr., 
" President of the Council 
" of Safety, Philadelphia." 

Now this Duncan Williamson, founder of 
the family, was not so absorbed in farm and 
ferry as to forget the important matter of 
child-training. For, in 1679, he made an 
agreement by which one Edward Draufton, 
also a resident of that township, was to teach 
his children to read the Bible. The fee was 
to be two hundred guilders, and the limit of 
time one year. 7 

'John Wanamaker evidently got this information from the 
records of Upland Court, where we find that Edward Draufton 
sued Dunck Williames for breach of contract. There was some 
difference of opinion as to Draufton's ability as a quick teacher. 
The court record reads: 

" The Pit demands of this Deft 200 Gilders for 
teaching this Defts children to Read in one Yeare. 

" The Court hayeing heard the debates of both parties 
as alsoe ye attestation of ye witnesses Doe grant judmt 
agst ye deft for 200 gilders wth ye Costs. 

" Richard Draufton sworne in Court declares that 
hee was p'sent at ye makeing that ye agreemt was that 
Edmund draufton should Teach Dunkes children to Read 
in ye bybell & if hee could doe itt in a yeare or a halfe 
yeare or a quartr, then he was to haue 200 gilders." 



It is at least evident that the several-times- 
great-grandfather Duncan not only had an 
ideal as to child-teaching and child-training, 
and wanted it realized, but that he was an 
American pioneer in that field as well as in 
others and that his idea remained with the suc- 
cessive generations. 

William, the eldest of Duncan's children, 
inherited the greater part of the father's land 
by will ; and dying at the age of forty-two, left 
it to his widow and several children. His 
wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Jan Claessen. 
•William's death occurred on Christmas Day, 
1 72 1, and he was buried in the cemetery of 
Gloria Dei Church (" Old Swedes "), Phila- 
delphia. William's son, Peter, was born before 
there was any record of births. But we know 
that he married Leah Le Niser on January 19, 
1 73 1, and that when he died in 1760 he left his 
property in Bensalem Township to his elder 
son, Jacob. The younger son, Peter, who bore 
his father's name, was born on January 17, 
11735, afl d moved to Falls Township in 1764, 
when he married Sarah Sotcher, grand- 
daughter of William Penn's steward at Penns- 
bury. During the Revolutionary War he 


lived at Beverly, and among his eight children 
was Mahlon, the father of Isaiah. 

Mahlon Williamson was born on March 
J S> r 777» an d ne married Charity Vansant, 
who brought Dutch and French blood into the 
Williamson family. Charity's father, Cor- 
nelius, married Anne Larzelere, descendant 
of Jacques La Resaleur. Her grandmother 
was Charity Van Horn, 8 and her grandfather, 
Isaiah Vansant, for whom our hero was 
named Isaiah Vansant Williamson, who was 
born on February 4, 1803, was, like his father, 
one of eight children. 

8 The Van Horn family were almost original settlers of New 
Amsterdam, deriving their descent from Christian Barendtse, 
who came from Hoorn Brabdant. Charity's father, Peter Van 
Horn, was a vestryman in St. James P. E. Church at Bristol. 
The family had been living along Neshaminy Creek for many 
years before > Charity married Isaiah Vansant, in 1732. The 
father of Isaiah Vansant was married at the First Presbyterian 
Church in Philadelphia, to Rebecca Vandegrift, in 1707. 



HE little eight-sided schoolhouse by 
the roadside, toward Mahlon Wil- 
liamson's farm, did not hold Isaiah 
for long. He soon outgrew it. In 
keeping with the family tradition for 
education, his parents made the sacrifice of 
putting him in the excellent Friends' School at 
Fallsington, a pay school for more advanced 
teaching. But before and after school Isaiah 
was a helper on the farm. He was then about 
twelve years old and walked daily the eight 
miles to and from school, lucky enough some- 
times to catch a ride on the way. Most likely 
Peter and John, his brothers, were there also ; 
and the Vansant children, cousins on his 
mother's side, from another part of the county. 
There were boys of the Baldison family, too, 
of whom John, the eldest, was Isaiah's inti- 
mate friend. And among the boys and girls of 
other families, there was one girl in particular, 
the daughter of Harvey Gillingham, store- 



keeper at Fallsington, of whom more will be 
said further on. 

Isaiah's cousins, the Vansant children, 
would be his daily schoolmates and play- 
mates ; they were of good, solid Dutch stock, 
which was also Isaiah's inheritance on his 
mother's side. She was descended from Gerrit 
Vansant, who came to this country in 1651, as 
he testified in taking the oath of allegiance at 
New Utrecht, Long Island, in September, 
1687. The records of the Dutch Reformed 
Church at that place note the baptism of 
several of Gerrit's children. Gerrit and his 
son, Jacobus, purchased land on Neshaminy 
Creek, each having about one hundred and 
fifty acres, the deeds being dated and recorded 
in December, 1698; and there they finally 
settled. Charity Vansant, of the fourth gen- 
eration from Gerrit, was born in Bensalem 
Township, just at the close of the Revolution- 
ary War, November 16, 1781. She was a 
woman of sympathetic nature and was Isaiah's 
confidant, having much influence over his 
early life. 

At the time Isaiah attended the Orthodox 






Friends' School, the Hicksite split had not 
occurred, and of course the Hicksite meeting 
house — adjoining the Orthodox meeting house 
at Fallsington to this day — had not been built. 
The schoolhouse attached to the original meet- 
ing house of the Friends was built about the 
middle of the eighteenth century. 

In the early part of the nineteenth century, 
about 1 815, Jonathan Palmer was the prin- 
cipal teacher of this school, a man said to have 
been uncommonly well-educated for that day. 
He was supported partly by the Friends' 
Meeting, and partly by the farmers who sent 
their children to be educated. 

The sessions of the school were held six 
days in the week — in the morning from eight 
to twelve, and in the afternoon from one to 
five o'clock, except in winter, when they closed 
an hour earlier. During the eleventh and first 
months (November and January), the girls 
were kept at home at work, to make room for 
the boys at school; in the fourth and fifth 
months (April and May) the boys were 
obliged to stay home in order to give the girls 
a chance ; and during the seventh and eighth 


months (July and August) there were no 
school sessions because all the boys and girls 
were needed in the farm work. 

In this school, among other studies, 
Jonathan Palmer taught English, French, 
Latin and mathematics — including geometry, 
trigonometry and surveying. 

Of the Baldison boys in the school at this 
time, John — a year older than Isaiah, and his 
special comrade — was fond of mathematics, 
and gave particular attention to surveying; 
his brothers made a specialty of French. 
Isaiah, also, had his predilections; while he 
took the general course right through, his 
favorite studies seem to have been mathe- 
matics in various forms, surveying, and French 
— the latter being kept up in later years after 
he went to Philadelphia, where he took private 
lessons from a good French teacher. Isaiah is 
spoken of as having been " a bright student " 
while in the Friends' School. It may be as- 
sumed that his lively and fun-loving spirit 
would enter into the sports and pastimes and 
good-natured joking that every wholesome 
schoolboy shares. But that he was faithful to 


his work and was really interested in his 
studies may be safely inferred not only from 
his lifelong characteristics, but from the fact 
that he continued them by taking private les- 
sons from Palmer after leaving school and 
while he was a clerk. 

Presumably three years at the Fallsington 
School carried our diligent, conscientious lad 
as far as his teachers could. He was now be- 
tween fifteen and sixteen years old, and on the 
question of whether he should become a 
farmer or not, his parents no doubt had much 
to say. Any such boy who makes a confidant 
of his mother, as he did, and who had been 
brought up as members of the Society of 
Friends train their children, would not make 
a decision except with his parents' consent 
and approval. 

The fact that Isaiah's brothers were well 
grown and able helpers on the farm made it 
possible for him to choose some other employ- 
ment. More than that, the brisk, bright, 
energetic lad, careful, accurate and trust- 
worthy in all his habits, who took the lead in 
doing the store errands, showed a developing 


aptitude for business, though not in an extra- 
ordinary manner. He was simply a prompt, 
painstaking, dependable, industrious fellow 
with good sense and right principles, with a 
greater liking for a store than the farm. 

Naturally, he thought of the store at Fall- 
sington, where his family dealt and where he 
was known. He applied there for a position. 
The storekeeper, Harvey Gillingham, was 
willing to take him as an apprentice. In those 
days, the system of apprenticing was the rule 
everywhere and, so far as is known, young 
Williamson became an indentured apprentice 
for a term of six or seven years. 

Every one that knew Williamson inti- 
mately, knows that up to his death, he earnestly 
maintained that the best thing that happened 
to him when he was young was his apprentice- 
ship to Harvey Gillingham. In those days, 
the apprentice was obliged to live with his 
employer, and received beside his board, 
lodging, and clothes, not more than fifty 
dollars the first year, with increases of wages 
each year. Beside the little store in the village 
of five hundred inhabitants, Gillingham had 



a grist mill near the store and later a lumber 

These conveniences for the farmers to get 
grocery and drygoods supplies, and to turn 
into flour their wheat, and supply building 
materials, made the Gillingham Store " at the 
Corners " a centre not only for the village but 
all the surrounding townships. It supplied 
everything for the farm and the household, 
stoves, agricultural implements, hardware, 
clothing for women, men and boys. 

The farmers brought in their poultry, 
eggs and butter, their pork, potatoes and 
apples, their wheat and oats, and traded them 
for harrows and harness, muslin and silk, soap 
and tobacco, powder and shot. 

Gillingham's supplies came from Phila- 
delphia, and thither he hauled the accumu- 
lated produce and sold it to the country 
produce dealers there for cash. Generally the 
wagons were driven to Morrisville or Bristol, 
where the miscellaneous cargo was transferred 
to a sailboat and carried to Philadelphia. 

Gillingham's business was considerable, 
as shown by his books. One winter, for 
example, nineteen hogsheads of sugar were 


brought up to him from Philadelphia, with 
other goods in proportion. 1 

Young Williamson threw himself, with 
heart and soul, into this whirl of country trad- 
ing life, and everything goes to show that in 
Mr. Gillingham he had a splendid teacher 
and that he was an apt, enthusiastic scholar. 
The boy soon did a man's work, was never 
tired, never absent, never idle and, of course, 
earned and received more wages. 

At the store he was known not as a dandy, 
but as a fine, attentive lad. His quick, manly 
ways pleased the far-seeing, solid Broadbrims. 
They recognized merit, integrity and indus- 
try in him, and their wives found him alert 

'A visit to Fallsington in 1027, nearly twenty years after 
this MS was written, and more than a hundred years after Isaiah 
Williamson worked there, reveals a very small place, with virtu- 
ally no business. Fallsington is not far from the thriving cities 
of Trenton and Bristol. But it is off the railroad and Wheat 
Sheaf Station on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 
which used to serve it, and where trains still stopped in John 
Wanamaker's day, has now been given up. Fallsington, although 
only a few hundred yards distant, is not on the Lincoln High- 
way, and could easily be missed by motorists passing on 
the Philadelphia-New York road. But in the days of Isaiah 
Williamson's clerking, roads were few and difficult, and farmers 
depended on the local store not only as their market for sup- 
plies but as their middleman to dispose of what they raised. It 
is interesting to remember that less than fifteen years before 
Williamson went to clerk in the Gillingham Store, Fallsington 
was seriously considered as the site of the national capital, and 
came very nearly being chosen for that great destiny. 



and polite as he rushed out to help them down 
from the farm carriage, to tie their horses, and 
to carry in their bundles. They appreciated 
his bright ways and bright words, knowing all 
the while that there were deeper depths of his 
nature, reserve forces, aptness and comprehen- 
sion even in those formative days of young 

It is wonderful how the memory of per- 
sonality, of courtesy, of willingness to oblige, 
remains through the years, and comes down 
from one generation to another. Isaiah Wil- 
liamson was working in the Gillingham Store 
eighty years ago, and yet Mrs. Rose Parsons 
Case, of Morrisville, remembers her mother 
speaking of Isaiah V. Williamson with admir- 
ation. Probably that mother went to the store 
in her early married days, and yet she talked 
to her daughter so enthusiastically about the 
Philadelphia philanthropist in his storekeep- 
ing days that Mrs. Case was able recently to 
quote her mother as having said : " He was a 
young man of sterling worth, prompt and deft 
in waiting upon customers, respectful and 
polite to all, an admirable clerk, as much in- 


terested in the business pertaining to the store 
as was Mr. Gillingham, the proprietor." 

The lessons of Quaker thrift and indus- 
try, of conservatism and economy, which 
Isaiah had been taught at home by his wise and 
cautious parents, became advancing studies in 
those seven memorable years spent in Gilling- 
ham's store and home. He would hitch up a 
wagon and drive around the country to pick 
up all sorts of country produce. In this way, 
he learned how to make a good trade. Twice 
a year the stock of the store had to be 
replenished in Philadelphia, and he was 
occasionally sent there to make purchases to 
replace goods sold out. 

Isaiah's fairness, good temper, straightfor- 
wardness and absolute trustworthiness, and 
withal an inherited modesty, made him popu- 
lar and a general favorite with every one com- 
ing into contact with him. Recognized by Mr. 
Gillingham and his customers to be important 
and useful, young Williamson never assumed 
any sense of it and was the same unconceited 
chap that he was the first day he came into the 

He spent his Sundays with his parents, and 



with them and his brothers and sisters attended 
the Friends' Meeting. The years sped on hap- 
pily and prosperously, as the young fellow 
grew in wisdom and ability for business life. 

Living in Mr. Gillingham's family, he was 
regarded almost as a son and the brother of 
the Gillingham children. But for the daugh- 
ter, who was a schoolmate of earlier years, 
there came gradually into Williamson's heart 
a deeper affection than brotherly friendship. 
It is not now known how long they had loved 
each other, what recognition of their affection 
there may have been on the part of their fami- 
lies, or even whether there was an engagement 
to marry. Mary died of consumption while yet 
a young woman. Isaiah's life was powerfully 
affected by the loss of his companion. He be- 
came restless, troubled, and anxious for a 
change of scene. This sorrow was always 
regarded at Fallsington as the chief reason of 
his going to Philadelphia when he had com- 
pleted his apprenticeship. 

Having always lived in and near Fallsing- 
ton, knowing everybody and by everybody 
known, it was not without a struggle that the 
young fellow turned away to seek his fortune 


in Philadelphia, which even then was a large 
city. His few trips for duplicating purchases 
of Gillingham, who did his own buying, 
had not left much opportunity for his clerk 
to become known. Williamson entered the 
city without a friend save his cousin, Peter 
Williamson, living on Pine Street, between 
Eighth and Ninth, opposite the Pennsylvania 

From his boyhood, he was never much of 
a talker, but he did a lot of thinking; and see- 
ing that he had quarried everything of knowl- 
edge and experience that he could get at the 
Four Corners store, the only widening avenue 
of progress open to him was the road to the 
city, and thither he must go and find his way 
for himself. The law of growth in the very 
ground under his feet, as he walked over the 
fields around his home, was working in the 
young man's soul. He could not sit down and 
fold his hands, and let it die out, nor could he 
stifle it by allowing the thorns and thistles of 
procrastination and cowardice to spring up to 
delay him, in spite of efforts of kindly friends 
advising to the contrary. 

From childhood his mother and father 



taught him to be saving of everything, of 
clothes and shoes, as well as of the small sums 
of money that he earned as a boy and that they 
gave him from time to time. 

It was under the home roof that he learned 
how to be careful in his expenditures, and as 
a little boy at home as well as a bigger boy 
apprenticed in a store, that he taught himself 
how to save. The experience and lessons of 
these early years were often referred to when 
he was a prosperous man. He used to say that 
before spending money it was worth while 
for any one to think seriously of the lot of 
things he could do without. 

Little by little the savings of childhood, 
together with what was laid aside of the earn- 
ings of the seven years' apprenticeship, 
amounted to two thousand dollars. This is 
what he had to carry to the city to build his 
future with. It was not much money. In fact, 
it was less than a dollar a day for the seven 
years of clerking. But it included all the 
earlier savings. Two thousand dollars 1 The 
cornerstone of the future millionaire's life. 
One would say that this capital was necessary 
in order to accomplish what Isaiah William- 


son accomplished. But the face value of the 
bank bills and gold was by no means the prin- 
cipal part of the capital gathered together for 
the investment in his future in the city. Isaiah 

A good birthright in the family name. 

The good name he had earned for himself 
as a school boy. 

A fairly good education. 

A well-earned reputation during the ful- 
fillment of his apprenticeship. 

Honesty, truthfulness, industry, energy, 
and good habits, of which the people of Fall- 
sington approved and to which they could 
bear witness. 

A training in storekeeping. 

The knowledge that he could earn money 
and save it if he wanted to. 

These seven qualities far outweighed his 
savings that were to be added to his qualifi- 
cations as a city business man. Had he lacked 
any one of these assets of character and experi- 
ence, and had he disposed of ten times as much 
money, his equipment would have been far 
less likely to bring him success. This is only 
mildly stating the facts. 



HE year before Isaiah Williamson 
went to the city to stay, a quaint little 
volume was published, entitled " Phil- 
adelphia in 1824," whose title page 
proclaimed it to be " a complete 
guide to strangers." This book gave the 
population of the city proper as one hundred 
and twenty-one thousand, and stated that " the 
built up parts " stretched along the Delaware 
River three or four miles, and backed up to- 
ward the Schuylkill River to the extent of 
only about a mile, covered with unbroken 
buildings on both sides of the street. This 
central region had as its principal thorough- 
fare High Street, now Market Street, and was 
bounded by Callowhill Street on the north, 
and Lombard Street on the south. East and 
south of Independence Hall was the finest 
residential section. Center Square, now 
covered by the City Hall, was practically 
open country. The business center was only 



two or three blocks back from the Delaware, 
north and south of High Street. 

It was on Second Street, near Chestnut, 
that Williamson secured a position as sales- 
man in a store that dealt in much the same 
class of commodities as those to which he had 
been accustomed in the country store at Fall- 
sington. Doubtless he had a reference from 
Gillingham, who probably recommended him 
to the owner of this particular store. It is 
known that the Fallsington people kept up 
their interest in the youth who had gone to 
Philadelphia, and bought from him when they 
came to the city. Some often ordered goods 
from him by mail. 

Within a year it came to his knowledge 
that the owner of a small drygoods store, lo- 
cated on Second Street, above Pine, wanted to 
sell his stock and fixtures. Isaiah had care- 
fully kept his money and had added a little to 
it. He was in a position to start in business 
for himself, and the idea interested him. He 
went to his cousin, Peter Williamson, a drug- 
gist, and a level-headed man, for advice. The 
cousin told him to buy the store. But Isaiah 
was already cautious of his money, and he 


thought it best to go home and talk to his 
father about it. The father's advice Isaiah 
had always taken, and he knew it to be prudent 
and wise. 

Mahlon Williamson had such confidence 
in the integrity, good sense, and ability of his 
son that he not only approved of the venture, 
but sold some cattle that he might supplement 
his son's meagre capital. He loaned Isaiah 
several hundred dollars to enable him to in- 
crease the stock of goods. This adventure, 
entered into when he was twenty- four, was the 
starting point of the career of Isaiah V. Wil- 
liamson as a Philadelphia merchant. 

From the very beginning he had consider- 
able success. The next year, 1827, he took 
William Barton into partnership, and they 
moved their drygoods business to a larger 
store, at the corner of Second Street and 
Coombe's Alley. They appear to have at- 
tempted to go also into the wholesale business, 
as a commission house, in addition to their 
retail business. But the partners proved to be 
of unequal ability, and the partnership was 
dissolved within a year. Isaiah was dis- 
appointed, and was faced with the problem of 


liquidating the business or buying out Barton's 
interest. Once more he went home to consult 
his father, who raised the money to enable his 
son to become the sole owner. It was not long 
before the young man's guiding principle of 
not spending just because he was earning made 
it possible for him to return the borrowed 

A little later Williamson was attracted by 
the location and reputation of the business of 
John S. Newlin, who had let it be known that 
he wanted to retire. Williamson thought so 
much of the opportunity that he sold his own 
business with the idea of buying Newlin's. 
But before doing so, with his usual caution, 
he spent a year or more in the store as a clerk 
under Newlin's tutelage, desiring to learn 
everything about the business before risking 
all his capital in pitting a country experience 
against city methods. When he felt that he 
knew the details of the business, Williamson 
made a deal with Newlin, who then retired. 
Williamson took hold with new ambition and 

One of the clerks was a Penn Manor boy, 
H. Nelson Burroughs, who had had business 


experience similar to Isaiah's in a large 
country store at Taylorsville. The young men 
were congenial in tastes and training. Both 
had been accustomed to the practice of rigid 
economy in the country stores from which they 
came, and where they had learned also habits 
of hard and diversified work. They ran the 
city business with the same frugality and 
energy and adaptability. Many a time Wil- 
liamson might have been heard to say some- 
thing like this : 

" Nelson, get out the wheelbarrow, and 
we'll bring over those goods I bought at 

If they could save cartage, so much the 
better. What work they could do themselves 
they did. They followed the principle of 
watching every penny. But rigid economy 
and close attention to the details of the busi- 
ness did not blind them to the bigger things. 
They were always reaching out, dreaming 
dreams and making them come true. Bur- 
roughs soon developed a remarkable capacity 
as a salesman, and he is said to have been one 
of the first in Philadelphia, if not the pioneer, 
to go out and solicit business for a wholesale 


house. He was particularly successful with 
the Southern merchants, who at that time 
patronized Philadelphia more than any other 
Northern city. He used to go to see them at 
their hotels, won their confidence, entered into 
their social life, and thus obtained a large 
share of their trade. It is said that he some- 
times sold goods to the amount of three 
hundred thousand dollars in a year — a phe- 
nomenal showing for a young salesman in 
those days. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that after 
some time Burroughs was unwilling to work 
any longer on salary. He asked to be admitted 
to partnership. As Burroughs was too valu- 
able a man to let a rival concern secure, Wil- 
liamson acquiesced. Under the firm name of 
Williamson and Burroughs, formed in 1834, 
the business grew and prospered rapidly. Its 
sales were larger than those of any drygoods 
house in the city, and there were proportion- 
ately larger profits. Both men looked out with 
clear eyes over the city for opportunities to 
invest their earnings. Burroughs became one 
of the early presidents of the Commonwealth 
National Bank. Williamson soon began to 


impress his personality and influence upon the 
financial life of the city. 

It is interesting to consider the conditions 
that existed in Philadelphia during the decade 
in which Isaiah Williamson rose to the 
position of the city's foremost drygoods 
merchant, and to speak of other men with 
whom he began to come into contact in the 
business life of the city. 

Isaiah Williamson was already well on 
the way to outstanding success in the city of his 
choice before railroads connected it with New 
York and Baltimore, and before the new 
form of transportation began to bring the west 
into contact with the Atlantic seaboard. The 
mails, as well as passengers and good, went 
by steamboat, stage coach and wagon. The 
revolution in the economic life of the nation 
through steampower applied to transportation 
on land and sea was just ahead. 

Philadelphia was still lighted by oil lamps 
— some sixteen hundred under the care of 
night guards. Gas lighting came in 1835, the 
year after Williamson and Burroughs formed 
their partnership. But Philadelphia, com- 
pared with other cities, was a metropolis, and 


its public works and institutions, its homes and 
churches, and high degree of culture were 
things to boast of. The fine water system, 
with the great reservoir at Fairmount on the 
Schuylkill, had been completed. The city fire 
plugs gave sufficient pressure to reach the tops 
of the highest buildings, and the fire-fighting 
volunteer hose companies did efficient work. 

Eleven daily newspapers kept the city post- 
ed. Of the meeting houses and churches, there 
were nearly a hundred in 1825, representing 
the Catholics and the various Protestant de- 
nominations — Presbyterians, Methodists and 
Episcopalians were most numerous, in the 
order named. Those were the days when 
chains were stretched across the streets in front 
of the churches during Sunday services. The 
charitable institutions included the notable 
and splendidly conducted Pennsylvania Hos- 
pital; three dispensaries affording aid to the 
poor in their homes ; two almshouses ; several 
asylums for orphans, women, the deaf and the 
dumb, and lunatics; numerous humane and 
soup societies, benevolent orders had lodges, 
and other helpful organizations. The Frank- 
lin Fund provided loans to assist " young, un- 


married artificers " who had served their 

In the Philadelphia and the Mercantile 
libraries, the newcomer could find attractions, 
as well as in the collections of the Philo- 
sophical Society, the Philadelphia Museum, 
the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the 
Academy of the Fine Arts. At the fore stood 
the University of Pennsylvania, the principal 
building then being situated on Ninth Street, 
where the Post Office now stands. Among the 
scientific organizations were the College of 
Physicians and the Philadelphia Medical 
Society, and the new Franklin Institute, just 
organized in 1824 — to bring together exhi- 
bitions of the products of American work- 

The theatres numbered five. Two of them 
were temporary summer theatres at Tivoli 
and Vauxhall Gardens near Centre Square. 
The old Chestnut Street Theatre was then 
one of the architectural features of the city. 
The editor of the " Guide to Philadelphia in 
1824" remarks in this connection: " Such are 
the dramatic entertainments in Philadelphia. 
If they are not as numerous as in some other 


cities, it may be attributed perhaps to the 
general disposition of the inhabitants inclin- 
ing them to more sober and scientific amuse- 

But Isaiah Williamson, on coming to 
Philadelphia, doubtless found the statistics 
regarding the city's wealth, commercial enter- 
prises, and business outlook of chief attrac- 
tion. The city's capital in 1823 was estimated 
at $158,000,000, invested in Government and 
bank stocks, and insurance companies; in 
bridges, canals and roads; in factories, mer- 
chandise and shipping; in personal and real 

He found an efficient Chamber of Com- 
merce, recommending fixed rates of commis- 
sion on all forms of domestic and foreign 
business; and the Custom House in its fine 
new building on Second Street, below Dock. 
He found a flourishing export and import 
trade, the exports amounting annually to about 
$10,000,000, and the imports to $14,000,000. 
And he perceived that Philadelphia was even 
then distinguished as a manufacturing city, its 
cotton factories being especially notable, using 
two or three thousand looms and annually 


producing cotton cloth worth $2,000,000, or 

Three packet lines to Liverpool were 
talked of, in order that the business of import- 
ing for Philadelphia merchants, which for a 
time had fallen into New York hands, could 
be restored to the city. As to internal trade, 
he learned that a surprising amount of busi- 
ness was being done by wagons, especially 
westward throughout the State. A single house 
in Philadelphia loaded two hundred for Pitts- 
burgh in one year, with an average weight of 
two tons. 

Williamson became interested, also, in the 
two canals then in the process of building, the 
Chesapeake and Delaware, and the Union; in 
the stupendous work of the Schuylkill Navi- 
gation Company by which navigation had just 
been opened the whole way from Philadel- 
phia to Reading and the coal mines; and espe- 
cially in that organization of a couple of years 
before, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Com- 
pany, having the purpose " to bring to market 
the valuable stone coal which abounds in a 
mountain situated on the margin of the Le- 
high, about forty-six miles above the con- 


fluence." The anthracite coal business was 
then in its infancy. With his quick, nervous 
temperament, he clearly comprehended the 
possibilities of the future development of the 
city as a manufacturing and mercantile center. 
He was constantly thinking of its future, of 
which he was always as enthusiastic as his 
nature would permit. 

At that time there were also many young 
men who, like Isaiah Williamson, were at the 
beginning of business careers that later gave 
them prominence. There was the shrewd and 
diligent John Grigg, whose small book busi- 
ness later developed into the large affairs of 
Grigg, Elliott & Co., and finally into the 
publishing house of J. B. Lippincott Com- 
pany. Joseph H. Seal, a farmer's boy (whose 
experiences paralleled Williamson's), had 
then begun in a small way as a drygoods 
merchant; he made his fortune in a few years, 
and retired in 1838, leaving a large part of his 
money in commercial enterprises as a special 
partner, which was the good practice of sixty 
years ago. 

He came into contact with the active young 
men of this time, such as John Welsh, Joseph 


R. Evans, and Jonathan Fell, and their sons ; 
Thomas Ridgway and his partner, John 
Livezey; Alexander Henry, his son, and his 
nephew of the same name ; Robert Wain and 
his successors; the Becks, the Willings; the 
Latimers; Jonathan Leedom; Eyre and 
Massey, whose many ships went all over the 
world; and Thomas P. Cope, then in the 
prime of life, whose regular packet lines to 
Liverpool, started in 1821, preceded all other 
lines, all of whom gave him a certain inspira- 
tion as these and others were all in the same 
boat with himself, making their fortunes. 

Henry Budd, James Steele, Henry Sloan, 
and Alexander J. Derbyshire were clerks at 
that time in various concerns. Isaac R. Davis, 
also, was a clerk with H. C. Corbit, before the 
drygoods firm of Corbit, Davis & Co., had 
been formed. The sons of Matthew Carey, 
pioneer publisher, were already fairly started 
in the publishing and general bookselling 
business, in the two firms of Carey & Lea and 
Carey & Hart. George W. Carpenter, at 
twenty-three, was still an assistant to Charles 
Marshall in the drug business, and not till 
three years later began the independent career 


that sent his medicines all over the land. David 
Freed, another country boy, had just started 
in for himself in the retail flour trade. Charles 
Oakford, whose hat manufacturing later 
occupied many " palatial stores," was not done 
learning his trade, and not until two years 
later did he start out with his first order of 
four hats taken in " a little cubby hole " on 
Lombard Street. Edmund A. Souder, to whom 
belongs the credit of beginning the coasting 
trade to Maine and beyond, was still a young 
clerk in a commission house. Charles S. Boker 
— who in later years as president of the Girard 
Bank rescued it from its difficulties — had at 
that time scarcely more than made a start in 
the business of hats and shoes. The young 
Samuel Bispham had in a few years pushed 
the wagon trade of Alter & Bispham all over 
the State, and was laying the foundation for 
the future strength of Samuel Bispham & 
Sons. Six years older than Williamson, Ben- 
jamin W. Richards — son of a wealthy father, 
and a Princeton honor man — had married a 
daughter of Joshua Lippincott, and in 1825, 
the firm of Lippincott & Richards, commis- 
sion merchants, was one of the largest in the 


city. Five years later Richards was Mayor, 
and through life one of Philadelphia's promi- 
nent and best men. 

These are a few of the young men who 
were Isaiah's contemporaries and neighbors 
in businesss when he came to Philadelphia, 
and all of whom became more or less notable 
in after years through their industry, fair deal- 
ing and indomitable pluck. Contact with them 
gave him a certain inspiration, as they were 
all in the same boat with himself, making 
their fortunes. 

In this thriving, bustling city Isaiah 
Williamson was matching a country boy's 
experience against city methods. He found 
that he had much to learn before he could hope 
to attain a large success. There were many 
strong men to compete with among Phila- 
delphia's merchants, and there were many 
long and well-established houses. Their signs 
were numerous on Front, Water, Dock, 
Second, Third, and High Streets. 

But are not the country boys, ever anew 
coming into the cities, the salvation of the 
cities? God did not build cities. He made 
trees and stored iron and stone and coal and 


clay in the earth. To men he left the task of 
finding and using these things. It was theirs 
to mine and forge and dig and build brick 
walls for homes and businesses. The majority 
of men that have made outstanding records in 
the cities were born among the trees and fields. 

To Isaiah Williamson the city was an open 
race course for country boys. He was not the 
only one who came with the inexperience of 
youth and filled with great ambition. He de- 
termined to enter the race and make a fair 
struggle to win. Win he did, amid great 
applause from his fellow runners of those 
early days, who praised his name and gave 
him full credit at the time of his voluntary 
retirement from the activities of Market 

Nature has given to almost every man a 
dowry of latent energy that flames up to the 
surprise of the man himself when he needs 
it most. 

Young Williamson came to Philadelphia, 
saying to himself, " I must and will conquer 
circumstances." All his strength rose and as- 
serted itself when his will power became 
enlisted in his work. 


In 1837 the firm of Williamson & Bur- 
roughs was dissolved. Isaiah retired, and his 
youngest brother, Mahlon, became the active 
Williamson of the firm. It was reorganized 
under the name of Williamson, Burroughs 
& Clark. Isaiah left money in the firm as a 
special partner. 

This was the end of Isaiah V. William- 
son's active participation in the life of Phila- 
delphia as a drygoods merchant. He felt that 
he had made a comfortable fortune in less 
than twelve years, and in those times the pos- 
session of one hundred thousand dollars was 
considered a large fortune. For a man still 
in his thirties to have made in a little over a 
decade a sum like this by straight business 
dealing — no speculation — was a remarkable 
feat. At the time of his retirement he had the 
reputation of being one of the richest young 
merchants in Philadelphia, and he was much 
praised because his money was the result of 
his own effort. 

It was not uncommon in the past for busi- 
ness men to fix an age or the amassing of a 
certain sum of money as the time of retiring 
from business. In our own time there are men 


who have won fortunes, and who have with- 
drawn from active business, and who have 
made to education and charities the best of all 
gifts, the gift of their time and talents to col- 
lege and church work, notably in Philadel- 
phia, Charles Custis Harrison and the late 
George C. Thomas, and in New York, Morris 
K. Jesup. 

To Isaiah Williamson, who was not consti- 
tutionally strong, and who was a bachelor with 
simple tastes, one hundred thousand dollars, 
in the thirties, was a mountain of money far 
in excess of his personal needs. His decision 
to retire in favor of his younger brother was 
characteristic of the man. He always knew 
when to stop. He was a man of few words, 
good at listening but quick to stop when 
through speaking, or when he had made his 
bargain or concluded his investment. The 
subsequent events of his life prove that he 
knew when to stop giving all his time and 
attention to a drygoods business on Market 

It must also be borne in mind that the 
country Quaker loved quiet and needed much 
rest. He was fond of books. The extremely 


modest man had attained a far greater degree 
of culture than he was generally credited 
with. He kept up the study of French under 
a private tutor for some time after coming to 
Philadelphia. He read it easily, and if he 
did not speak fluently, it was because there 
was none with whom to talk. A portion of his 
books still remains in the possession of one of 
his nephews, and there is eloquent testimony 
to Williamson's intellectual tastes in glancing 
along the shelves. 



JFTER Isaiah Williamson withdrew 
from Williamson & Burroughs, in 
1837, he began to travel in his own 
country and abroad. While he en- 
joyed the novelty of foreign lands, his 
tremendous belief in the great development of 
his native land led him far afield in the United 
States, seeking first-hand opportunities before 
investing his fortune. 

The hardships of travel did not deter him 
— and there were hardships in those early 
days of a kind we do not dream of. Where 
the railroads went he followed them to the 
railheads. But much of his travel had to be 
in a stage coach or on a river steamer. Every- 
where he studied industrial developments. 
He knew all of his own state, in a thorough 
way that few people even today, when travel 
is so easy, know Pennsylvania. His favorite 
trips were to the iron, coal and timber lands, 
where he gathered information that stood him 


in good stead in after years. Pittsburgh had a 
lifelong fascination for him. Up to his death 
he watched the progress of the steel industry. 

These travels, profitable to the shrewd 
investor that he was from a business stand- 
point, broadened his ideas and outlook, and 
gave him an appetite for travel that led to 
the European trip he had long looked for- 
ward to. Leaving in May, 1841, on the Great 
Western, whose voyage was 13 days, 9 hours 
to Clifton. 

From a well-written diary of his travels, 
kept by Williamson, probably only for his 
own eyes to refresh his memory in after 
years, much is discovered of the man himself, 
his sorrow in leaving friends, his enjoyment 
of his companions making the same " Grand 
Tour," his sympathetic nature, humor, and 
tireless energy to make the most of time and 
opportunity, his farseeing shrewdness in ob- 
servations recorded of people, places and 
customs. The intensely human side of him is 
revealed in contradistinction to " the money 
bag man " that some people took him for. 
There are a hundred and thirty-four pages of 
twenty-four lines and about three hundred 


words on a page, all written with neatness in 
a small, round hand, clear as print, the i's 
being dotted and the t's crossed with punctil- 
ious care. 

Apparently he was out to see everything 
that was to be seen. If he reached a city in the 
late afternoon, he must start right at sight- 
seeing that very evening. Naturally, he gives 
larger space to the prolonged sight-seeing in 
such cities as London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, 
St. Petersburg, Moscow, Edinburgh and Dub- 
lin. Everywhere he visited cathedrals, art 
galleries, theatres, business houses, factories, 
wharves, charitable institutions ; and expressed 
himself with sympathetic shrewdness about 
what he saw. He had his positive opinions 
and comparisons as to the good, bad and in- 
different in art, music, oratory and ceremonial. 
His appreciative comments on the great men 
of history, literature and art, as well as on liv- 
ing personages he saw, were brief and passing. 
But they were enough to show that he was not 
only well informed but often held a point of 
view that was peculiarly his own. He did 
not just echo the words of the guide, the guide 
book, or the work he was reading. As a 


traveller he was individualistic. And he felt. 
His heart responded to the great things of 
art and nature — to the grandeur of cathedral 
and mountain, to the beauty of stained glass 
or velvety lawn and waving meadow, to the 
colors and figures of tapestry, and to the light 
and shade of encastled river and lake. Many 
things that he saw were not mentioned in the 
guide book. 

He was sympathetic, too, to human condi- 
tions, pitiful toward poverty and sorrow; and 
humorously cynical of shams. He knew, also, 
when he was paying moderate prices and when 
he was being overcharged. 

Transoceanic steamers in 1841 landed 
their passengers at Clifton, near Bristol. 
From there Williamson went to London, with 
stops at Bath and Reading. Before leaving 
England he seems to have planned his Conti- 
nental tour with his usual care for detail. Rail- 
roads were still few. As in the United States 
one had to travel between many points by river 
steamer and stage. From London he went to 
Brighton, Portsmouth, and the Isle of Wight. 
The Channel steamer took him up the Seine 
to Rouen. After a stay in Paris and Lyons, he 


entered Switzerland at Geneva, first having 
stopped at Chamonix. A steamer took him 
along Lac Leman to Vevey. He circled 
around to Basel, via Freiburg. There he 
started the journey down the Rhine, with a 
side trip to Frankfort. He stopped at Mainz, 
Coblentz, Cologne and Dusseldorf. He left 
the Rhine at Gorcum to go to Amsterdam by 
coach, passing through Utrecht. In Holland 
he saw also Haarlem, Leyden, the Hague, 
and Rotterdam; and in Belgium, Antwerp, 
Brussels, and Liege. 

Then began at Aix La Chapelle the jour- 
ney across Europe that few in those days had 
the time, money, energy, and will to make. 
The itinerary was: Bremen, Hamburg, Leip- 
zig, Dresden, Magdeburg, to Hamburg again 
by steamer, to Lubeck by diligence, and by 
water to Travemunde, where he boarded the 
Baltic Sea steamer for the four-day trip to St. 
Petersburg. After ten days in the capital of 
Russia, he was not dismayed to travel by dili- 
gence to Moscow and back. Leaving Russia 
by the Baltic Sea route to Hamburg, he 
crossed the North Sea back to London. 

What he had seen of Continental culture 


and civilization made him feel that he ought 
to study at first-hand the culture and civili- 
zation of the land from which his ancestors 
had come and which was akin to that of 
his native land. Philadelphians, especially 
Quakers, feel more at home in England than 
anywhere else abroad. The diary records 
visits to Cambridge, Sheffield, Leeds, York, 
Ripon, Newcastle, Berwick, Kelso, Sidbury, 
and Melrose Abbey, on the way to Edinburgh. 
He went from Edinburgh to Dundee on a 
small steamer; thence to Sterling, Callander, 
the Trossachs, Dumbarton, and Glasgow. 
There he took a steamer to Belfast, went north 
to the Giant's Causeway, and then to Dublin. 
After Ireland, Wales. He crossed from 
Kingston to Holyhead; thence to Bangor, 
Chester, and Liverpool. Once more in Eng- 
land he visited Birmingham, Warwick, and 
Stratford-on-Avon. The diary ends abruptly 
with an account of Lord Mayor's day after 
his return to London in November. 

These details are given to show that it 
was not an idling pleasure excursion that 
Isaiah Williamson undertook in those days 
of limited conveniences for rapid travel. He 


traversed England, Ireland, Scotland, France, 
Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Russia; 
visited the great art galleries of the principal 
cities and studied the old masters of painting 
and sculpture; also the great Universities of 
Cambridge, Edinboro and Glasgow, as well 
as the hospitals and schools. 

So did this country lad, of Fallsington 
village, choose to do with his first free time, 
when he spent, perhaps, the largest amount of 
money that he ever spent for himself in all of 
his life. 



IS return to his native land set him 
down at the " Four Corners " again, 
not in old Bucks County, but in Phila- 
delphia, where he faced the real cross- 
roads of his life in determining his 
future course. 

He was out of business, still in his young 
manhood, unmarried and with all his time to 
do as he pleased. He was a handsome, well- 
dressed man in those days, slender, erect and 
alert, rather less than medium height, with 
dark hair, expressive and extremely bright 
eyes, smooth face and firm mouth, and with a 
rare touch of gentleness. 

As a rich, good-looking, young bachelor, 
only forty years old, with education and re- 
finement, he might have been a social lion had 
he so chosen. He was fond of society, enjoyed 
the company of good women and clever men, 
liked horses and dogs, as his diary and some 
old letters prove. 



At this period of his life, nothing was 
farther from his thought and purpose than 
to become in any sense a recluse ; neither was 
he of the kind who think that they have done 
the world a service in being born into it and 
that it ought to find for him for the rest of his 
days, some highly honorable and remunera- 
tive position, without hard work or great 

It may be fairly said, for reasons that fol- 
low, that his determination had been finally 
to remain a bachelor. Having lost his first 
choice of a country girl, by death, when he 
came to live in the city he endeavored to win 
as a wife a most worthy woman, to whom he 
paid court and to whom he proposed mar- 
riage. But he was refused as too poor and 
with a business too uncertain. It is stated that 
in after years, when better off, he renewed his 
proposal to the same person and was again 
refused for being too richl 

Had he desired to return to the drygoods 
business he established, doubtless every door 
would have opened to him. With the repu- 
tation that he had made and the good judg- 
ment he possessed, he could with his means 


have allied himself with almost any of the 
large financial or business concerns of the city. 

Having voluntarily retired from business, 
because he was not ambitious to go farther 
either for fame or riches, when he returned 
to America he was for a short time at a stand- 
still as to what his future life was to be. 

He is known to have entertained the idea 
of going back to Europe to continue his 
studies of the great cities and peoples which 
he had not visited. The early forties were 
the most perplexing period of his life. One 
thing that is said to have brought him home 
from abroad was the notice that had been 
drawn to coal lands and their advancement in 
values. He had large investments in certain 
important coal properties. 

The strenuous and thorough investigations 
he had made prior to investing his capital 
proved the excellence of his judgment, be- 
cause all his investments greatly enhanced in 
value. The careful survey he had to make of 
his properties and the examinations of other 
investments offered to him, to take up his 
income uninvested, deferred his return to 
Europe until he lost his enthusiasm for it. 


But much more than this, other influences 
were silently and strongly working upon his 
mind and heart, by which he was uncon- 
sciously being led to a new view of his life 
and to enter upon a new career. 

The world grew larger and finer to him 
as he wandered through the British Museum 
and the National Gallery of London. The 
great universities were to him the living rep- 
resentatives of the wise and good whose bene- 
factions had made possible these great seats 
of learning. He was deeply stirred by the 
touch he had with the forces working for the 
world's uplift in science, art and general edu- 

While he walked among the treasures of 
the old past, he saw signs of a new life as he 
watched the artists at their work and the 
teachers in their college classrooms. He wan- 
dered about the streets and shops, drinking in 
the vitality of an advancing civilization. The 
effect upon him was depressing. He had cut 
the connection with the living forces and 
activities of his time. He had cast himself 
upon an island in the midst of a great sea and 
chosen to be a Robinson Crusoe. He could 


not rid himself of the thought that he was a 
lone man, without an object in life. 

In London he heard much of what Earl 
Shaftesbury, a noble Lord, with leisure and 
means, was doing for the poor of London. 
In Bristol, he saw the large orphan houses 
built by George Mueller. Wherever he went, 
he saw the endowed schools and hospitals, 
built by the gifts of retired merchants, bank- 
ers, and generous women, like Lady Burdett 

The man most talked about in Philadel- 
phia, when Isaiah Williamson first came 
to town, was Stephen Girard — the merchant 
and mariner, who stood first on the roll of 
its eminent citizens. Girard's vast wealth and 
business successes were constantly referred to 
with wonder and praise. He had begun in 
poverty, peddled oranges on the streets of 
Philadelphia, and advanced slowly, step by 
step, to the first place in its business world. 

His patriotic support of the Government 
during the War of 1812 and his many be- 
nevolences were constantly on the public 
tongue. People liked to talk about everything 
Girard did. His peculiar walk, old gig, his 


one eye and his queue, his odd coat and char- 
acteristic speech, always enlisted the young 
countryman's interest and admiration. He 
thought often of the fact that Stephen Girard 
had not accomplished large financial results 
until he was past forty. For ten years, he 
listened to all that was said of Girard, and 
during that ten years, until Girard died in 
1 83 1, he watched him as a young beginner 
always watches the older business leaders of 
their time. Girard's life and work, uncon- 
sciously at first but admittedly afterward, 
greatly influenced young Williamson's course 
of life. His conscience now was keenly alive 
to what Girard had done — after he was forty 
— and to the fact that he himself had stopped 
before he was forty doing anything but what 
he pleased. That he was forty now and might 
possibly do his best work, were he willing, 
haunted him as though he heard voices, like 
Jeanne d'Arc, bidding him to not throw away 
his best years. 

He had what the Quakers call " a con- 

As in all his extremities, for good counsel 
he sought the advice of his cousin, Peter Wil- 


liamson, whose house he often called his home. 
Peter Williamson was an excellent citizen. 
He was one of the founders of the Southern 
Dispensary, the Southwark Soup Society; 
also of the College of Pharmacy, of which he 
was a trustee, having been a successful drug- 
gist for many years. He was one of the 
originators and directors of the Western Sav- 
ing Fund and a prominent Mason, filling the 
chair of the Right Worshipful Grand Master 
and Right Worshipful Grand Treasurer of 
the Grand Lodge, F. & A. M., of the State 
of Pennsylvania, which antedates all the other 
Grand Lodges of the United States. Peter 
Williamson was a broad-minded, wise coun- 
sellor, a man of affairs, and a helper of his 
fellowmen, giving strong support, service and 
aid to all public and private charities. His 
strength of character, highmindedness, unself- 
ishness, and public influence, led to his 
judgment being sought after by his fellow 

At this period of Isaiah Williamson's life 
he could not have had a better adviser than 
this older cousin. 

The turning point of his career had come. 


In the long and frequent interviews, the 
whole ground of Isaiah Williamson's position 
was gone over: 

1. He had gone out of business because he 
had reached the goal he aimed for, and had 
abundant money for his own needs. 

2. He had none of kin dependent upon 
him and there were none of his relations that 
could not and were not taking care of them- 

3. His investments were growing well 
and he would have a surplus to divide among 
them, if he wished, from the advanced values, 
accumulating dividends and savings through 
small living expenses. 

4. He desired to travel, enjoy the old 
world as well as the new, and cultivate his 
mind beyond what was possible when he was 

Peter Williamson, with great tact, drew 
out information touching the investments that 
Isaiah had made. Developments going on 
were likely to lead to a sudden rise in value 
of coal properties and coal railroads. Isaiah's 
investments in this field, therefore, might 
produce a million of dollars. 


All things pointed plainly to a new side 
of Isaiah Williamson's brain. He was more 
than a merchant, he was also a financier, like 
Marshall Field, who came along later on the 
same path. 

It was a surprise to both Peter and Isaiah 
that this unlooked-for development of char- 
acter and power had come. Other investors 
were just as diligent, cautious, painstaking, in 
study of enterprises. But results proved that 
the keen perceptions and soundness of judg- 
ment possessed by Isaiah Williamson were 
most uncommon and amounted to a talent 
which, hitherto, had lain dormant. 

Therefore, this previously unknown some- 
thing in the quality of his mind must now be 
taken into account and worked just the same 
as the lead or silver veins that might come to 
light on the owner's farm. 

The calm, deliberate discussions of these 
two kinsfolk slowly settled down to a sum- 
ming up somewhat like this : 

Isaiah was in good health, with a prob- 
ability of years to give to making money for 

He had found out that he could not only 


amass wealth, but also do what many others 
could not do. He could organize himself to 
control the saving of it. Not needing it for 
himself, he had no right to wrap his talent in 
a napkin but turn it over and over to the 
utmost for others needing to be helped. 

The example of Stephen Girard had taken 
deep root in Isaiah Williamson's soul, and he 
was much drawn towards some such work for 
his own country, and similar to what was 
going on in and about London, where he had 
recently been. 

Slowly, steadily but surely, Williamson, 
under a deep sense of his accountability for 
talents and wealth, came to the renunciation 
of his arranged plans. He resolved to use 
all his ability, whatever it was, and the gains 
thereof, for the benefit of his fellowmen. 



|ROM this time on, he regarded his 
life and its powers as a trust to be 
enlarged, controlled and adminis- 
tered diligently, savingly, and solely 
for others. From his retirement for 
communion with his own soul and with his 
Maker, he came out into the open of a new 
life and surrendered himself wholly to the 
duty before him as he saw it. He knew the 
mighty energy of money, and he would gather 
and rightly direct it. But it went hard with 
him that day, to let go the dream of leisure 
and hope of travel and study, to go back again 
to a desk and an office, to the labor he had laid 
aside as he thought forever, when he had no 
personal wants to serve. No one but himself 
knew that in the Court of Conscience, he was 
passing upon himself a life sentence. 

He had a definite purpose now, and he set 
himself to daily work to carry it out in the 
most practical way. Unfaltering in his de- 


termination and without vagueness or flabbi- 
ness, he concentrated and consecrated himself 
to his self-chosen task. It was noticeable to 
his old friends that a new light was in his eyes. 
He practically withdrew himself from the 
world at large and took long walks of inquiry 
into existing benevolences, with a view of 
helping them rather than multiplying organi- 
zations. Just as he had done on Market 
Street, when in business, in examining into 
the character, capacity and actualities of busi- 
ness firms that sought to buy goods of his firm 
on credit, so did he go into the objects of 
charitable and other institutions, the quality 
of work, their methods of management, and 
the accuracy of their reports and financial 

He would put his finger on the weaknesses 
and waste of organizations that directors and 
trustees seemed to be ignorant of, and he made 
it a rule to leave those which he decided 
were sentimentally impractical so severely 
unhelped as to call down upon him the con- 
demnation of some of his friends, who did not 
know the facts about their institutions as well 
as he knew them. For hours he would sit 


silent and alone with a small pencil in hand, 
and look off at some distant object while he 
thought out his problems. 

Always economical in his habits, his ex- 
penses became smaller. He lived in the 
simplest way, dressing more plainly and dis- 
pensing with everything he could do without. 

At this very time, he was giving away 
secretly thousands and tens of thousands of 
dollars, covering up his hand so that only two 
or three persons would know the source of the 

During this time and through the fifties, 
his wealth grew much more rapidly than he 
could wisely distribute it. He never specu- 
lated. He paid in full for what he bought 
and put it in his boxes to keep until the right 
time to sell. First of all, he made himself 
thoroughly familiar with all the corporations, 
their men and methods of management, and 
the possibilities of advancing values. The 
hard-headed, thorough business man that he 
had always been, held him off from being 
drawn into operations through friendship 
or sentiment. 

He dealt not in vague expectations or by 


promising prospectuses but in the plain actual 

Being known to have cash always on hand, 
he was sought for to join the best things being 
organized, and almost as constantly the doubt- 
ful schemes that wanted the use of his name 
to give respectability to proposed operations. 

On occasions when invited into investments 
and directorates upon a special and lower 
basis than other people, he indignantly de- 
clined, declaring that to do so would dishonor 
him in his own sight and prevent him from 
looking his friends in the face. 

He made the most exhaustive inquiries 
into the situation of everything he thought of 
investing in, and after he put his money into 
any undertaking, he kept close watch on its 
operations and its operators to the extent, some- 
times, of becoming a member of its board and 
serving as a committee man, in order to give 
personal attention to make the returns profit- 
able to himself and other stockholders. He 
made much money from the study of and in- 
vestment in city real estate, in which, by his 
foresight, he went ahead of the changes and 
revolutions ever going on in city localities, 


buying properties sure to advance and hold- 
ing them for a time. His practice with all his 
investments was to sell at a fair profit and not 
to wait to get all the advance, but let other 
people have the chance for a part of it, taking 
the money and profit he had made, and rein- 
vesting again in another locality to repeat the 
turnover in the same way. 

There was no jumpy luck in all this, nor 
favored knowledge of conditions beyond the 
opportunity and reach of other men. It was 
his thorough organization of himself to look 
for and think over existing conditions, and 
the use of plain, common sense in acting 

He worked hard and long, and in fact 
more zealously than in the days he was stor- 
ing up the first hundred thousand. 

Fifteen years now follow that this modest, 
unobtrusive man, with a genius for money- 
getting, buried himself contentedly in delving, 
digging, mining and storing for the poor and 
weak, for whom he had accepted a charge 
from his Maker. His body constitutionally 
weak, his life wearing thin, confined to the 
narrow spaces of an office, his chosen food but 


little more than a crust, making one suit last 
the usual time of two, and his spirit soaring 
higher and higher as he toiled and saved to 
make and distribute his gains for humanity, 
that they might breathe good cheer and 
strength and happiness upon others un- 
favored by fortune. 

What a lifetime it was, that period from 
1 850 to 1 865 ! With hungry mind, he analyzed 
the energies of money. He selecting the altars 
upon which to lay it. He was constantly sub- 
jected to the criticisms, stabs and scorn of 
fellow citizens and misinformed newspaper 
writers, who regarded him as " the thread- 
bare philanthropist." Maligned by those 
whose appeals for aid for their charities or 
enterprises were unsuccessful, who wished to 
deprive him of his liberty to determine where 
to place his money, he steadily went on, meek 
and silent, all the time carrying on his little 
shoulders the hospitals, homes and schools 
with which he had loaded himself up for 
future aid. 

As his friend of many years, the late 
Henry C. Townsend, said in 1891, in his 
address at the opening of the Williamson Free 


School of Mechanical Trades, of which he 
was one of the original trustees : 

" When he reached the age of nearly 
seventy, his fortune probably amounted to 
about $4,000,000; and at that period of his 
life, yielding to the impulses of his naturally 
kindly and sympathetic nature, keenly alive 
and responsive to the claim of all forms of 
suffering humanity, and regarding himself as 
only a steward of the large fortune he had 
acquired by a life of integrity, self-denial, and 
intelligent efforts, he began a system of wise, 
judicious and liberal distribution of his means, 
giving in various directions and for a variety 
of purposes, in a broad and catholic spirit, 
both money and property, to hospitals, 
schools, homes and similar charitable and edu- 
cational organizations. The aggregate of his 
donations during this period of his life, from 
the age of seventy to eighty-six, while not 
known during his lifetime, was ascertained 
after his decease to have amounted to (inde- 
pendent of the endowment of this school) 
about $4,000,000, a sum believed to be larger 
than that ever given by any one individual in 


his lifetime in this country for benevolent pur- 

This was the result of a gradual mental 
process rather than of any sudden outside 
influence. However, General Joshua L. 
Chamberlain, in his historical sketch of " The 
Founding of the University of Pennsylvania 
Hospital," suggests that Isaiah V. William- 
son's benevolent start was caused by an appeal 
made to him, in 1872, for that hospital scheme 
by two members of the committee having in 
charge the raising of funds from individual 
donors. The State Legislature in April, 1872, 
granted to the new hospital in West Phila- 
delphia, $100,000, " on condition that $250,- 
000 in addition should be collected from 
other sources, and that at least two hundred 
free beds for injured persons should be main- 
tained forever " ; and later made other appro- 
priations. The City Councils granted five 
and a half acres adjoining the university site, 
on condition that the new hospital should 
furnish fifty free beds for the indigent sick. 
Subscriptions were also asked of the public 
generally, in sums of $3000 or multiples, 
giving each donor " the right to nominate one 


or more free patients in the hospital." This is 
what General Chamberlain has to say regard- 
ing the visit to the Quaker financier: 

" One picturesque incident, at least, arose 
in this private subscription. Isaiah V. Wil- 
liamson was a man noted for his wealth, but 
almost equally for his unwillingness to give 
from it. Two members of the committee, 
however, one of whom was Dr. William 
Pepper (at that time the Provost of the Uni- 
versity), with some reluctance, braved his 
common reputation, visited him in his dark 
little office in an obscure building on a narrow 
street (30 Bank Street), and laid their request 
before him. He allowed them to talk for 
almost an hour, only asking two questions, and 
then brought the interview to a close by say- 
ing he would think the matter over. In a few 
weeks the hospital committee were surprised 
to receive from him a subscription of $50,000, 
the largest single contribution to the hospital 
fund. But, curiously enough, from that time 
forward, Mr. Williamson became a liberal 
giver to philanthropic objects. He gave 
$50,000 more to the University and left $100,- 
000 to it in his will, and his office became a 


regular calling place for those interested in 
various charities." 

This quotation should doubtless be taken 
with several grains of salt. How could 
General Chamberlain fairly assume to know 
what no one knew, but the man himself, as to 
his dedication of himself, not in public, a 
score of years before that visit to solicit for 
the University Hospital? Other assertions 
have been made that Williamson gave grudg- 
ingly, particularly at that period; but hesi- 
tation for careful examination is not the same 
as disinclination. One of the editorials in the 
Philadelphia papers at the time of his death 
declared that " he was seldom a voluntary and 
never a cheerful giver" ; that " he was never 
a leader, and often not even a follower, in the 
movements of the progressive or the philan- 
thropic" ; and that if it had not been for " the 
ceaseless and wisely directed efforts of sincere 
philanthropists who cultivated his friendship 
and confidence, the Williamson School would 
never have been founded." 

This is painfully untrue. 

If if could be proved that Mr. William- 
son never gave anything spontaneously and 


generously, of his own initiative, it would at 
least be to his credit that there was something 
in his heart which could respond to definite 
appeals, or that he could succeed in overcom- 
ing a natural ungenerosity. But the reverse is 
true. In numerous instances, his gifts were 
not only voluntary, but absolutely secret — as, 
for example, in the many gifts which he made 
to various charities under the pseudonym of 
" Hez," which no one knew stood for him till 
after his death. 

That certain great-souled people, of whom 
he sought counsel, did exert a positive influ- 
ence over him in this direction at various 
times, and that he appreciated their spirit and 
rose to the occasion, is manifest. The chari- 
ties of Peter Williamson and his daughter, 
Mary, made such an impression on him that 
in his will of 1874, it was directed that $10,000 
should be left to Mary to assist her in carry- 
ing on her charitable work. The same amount 
was entered for Mrs. J. Bellangee Coxe, for 
the same purpose ; and it is well known that as 
Miss McHenry was greatly admired by him 
for her unselfish character, fine executive 
ability and energy, in founding and carrying 


on the Lincoln Institution, the Educational 
Home, and other enterprises for young men; 
and, as has been said, some of his first large 
gifts were in the direction of her work. It is 
plain that the years of money-getting had not 
withered his heart. 

His long-time friend, William C. Ludwig, 
was another who exerted a great influence 
over Williamson, both by example and posi- 
tive pressure. For many years the philan- 
thropist was accustomed to consult Ludwig 
more or less regularly regarding benevolent 
causes in mind, often not only following his 
advice, but going on far beyond his sug- 
gestions. As will be seen, this was particularly 
so in the matter of the Merchants' Fund. 

But whatever the influence, subjective and 
objective, which set this great engine of 
charity going, the fact remains that the num- 
ber and variety of Williamson's gifts in three 
or four years, from 1873 to ^76, are simply 
bewildering, even with the incomplete records 
which we have. Alfred Helmbold, Jr., who 
was his private secretary for seven years be- 
fore his death, has collected such memoranda 
as he could of those years. The benefactions 


amounted to at least $200,000, aside from the 
gift to the University Hospital. Mr. Helm- 
bold's list is here classified and arranged 


Asylum for Relief of Persons Deprived of Use of Their 

Church Home for Children. 

Clinton Street Boarding Home for Young Women. 

Foster Home Association of Philadelphia. 

Frankford Asylum for the Insane. 

Frankford Home for the Insane. 

Franklin Reformatory Home for Inebriates. 

Home for Incurables. 

Home for Infants. 

House for Homeless. 

House of Refuge. 

Howard Institution Under Care of Women Friends. 
Lincoln Institution for Soldiers' Orphans. 
Newsboys' Home. 
Old Men's Home. 

Pennsylvania Asylum for Indigent Widows and Single 
Women in the District of Kensington. 

Pennsylvania Industrial Home for Blind Women. 

Philadelphia Home for Incurables. 

Temporary Home Association. 

Temporary Home for Children. 

Union School and Children's Home. 

Union Temporary Home for Children. 

Western Provident Society and Children's Home of 



Bank Clerks' Beneficial Association. 
Bucks County Association. 
Central Employment Association. 

Female Association of Philadelphia for the Relief of the 

Sick and Employment of the Poor. 
Fuel Saving Society of City and Liberties of Philadelphia. 
Mercantile Beneficial Association of Philadelphia. 
Merchants' Fund. 

Northern Association of the City and County of Phila- 
delphia for the Relief and Employment of Poor 

Pennsylvania Seamen's Friend Society. 
Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to 

Philadelphia Lying-in Charity for Attending Indigent 

Females at Their Own Homes. 
Philadelphia Protestant Episcopal City Mission. 
Philadelphia Society for Employment and Instruction of 

the Poor. 

Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of 

Public Prisons. 
Seamen's Fund Society. 

Soup Societies — all of the regularly organized ones in 

Union Benevolent Association of Philadelphia. 
Western Association of Ladies of Philadelphia for Relief 

and Employment of the Poor. 


Children's Hospital. 

Church Dispensary of Southwark. 

Episcopal Hospital. 


German Hospital. 

Germantown Dispensary and Hospital. 

Howard Hospital and Infirmary for Incurables. 

Jefferson Medical College Hospital. 

Jewish Hospital. 

Medico-Chirurgical Hospital. 

Northern Dispensary of Philadelphia. 

Orthopaedic Hospital of Philadelphia. 

Pennsylvania Hospital. 

Philadelphia Dispensary. 

St. Luke's Hospital, South Bethlehem. 

University Hospital. 

Women's Hospital of Philadelphia. 


Academy of Natural Sciences. 

Cambria Library Association of Johnstown. 

Educational Home for Boys. 

Haverford College. 

Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 

Industrial Home for Girls. 

Library Company of Fallsington. 

Mercantile Library. 

Philadelphia School of Design for Women. 
Swarthmore College. 
University of Pennsylvania. 
West Philadelphia Institute. 
Women's Medical College. 
Yardleyville Library Company. 

This is undoubtedly an imperfect show- 
ing, for Williamson was always as reticent 


as possible regarding his gifts. Informa- 
tion had to be gathered from one source and 
another after his death. To many of these 
causes the contributions were fixed annual 
subscriptions, which were later found to have 
been permanently provided for in his will of 
1874, according to certain definite percent- 
ages, thus revealing his accurate knowledge 
of the details and relative needs of certain 
benevolent organizations at that time. As an 
illustration of this, the Mercantile Beneficial 
Association received annually not less than 
$600 by the provisions of the will. 

It is possible that Williamson came across 
the saying a member of Parliament once 
shrewdly uttered, out of personal observation 
as one of the laboring class, that " charity 
creates much of the misery it relieves, but 
does not relieve all the misery it creates." It 
is evident he held a similar opinion ; and tried 
to avoid unwise, careless, thoughtless methods 
that have often done more harm than good. 
He seems to have preferred, usually, to con- 
tribute to the organized city charities rather 
than to the special local work of the churches. 
One of his chief reasons, according to Mr. 


Helmbold, was that " the needs of the suffer- 
ing could be better investigated and under- 
stood by those having charge of these matters 
than from his personal efforts." 

On the other hand, it is true that in 
numerous instances he gave secret personal 
attention to individual cases of need, or did 
this through his secretary — who was fre- 
quently his almoner in charitable deeds never 
publicly known. It seems to be true, also, 
that in a quiet way he helped many a feeble 
church in gifts. This is borne out by an 
exclamation known to have been made during 
the last year of his life, when told that two 
well-dressed ladies, coming in a carriage, had 
called at his office and asked for a contribution 
toward an expensive altar rail in a rich 
church : 

" Rich church, eh? Well, I've got no use 
for rich churches. When I give money, I 
don't give to rich churches; I give to strug- 
gling ones." 

In that first period of systematic giving in 
the '70's he made his gifts chiefly from the 
income of his investments, and as a rule 
pledged money only as he had an expected 


income to meet his promise. At times many 
of his valuable securities were not producing 
incomes, though increasing in value; and in 
fact the increase of his four millions, at 
seventy years, to three times as much in the 
last fifteen years of his life, was largely due to 
this great appreciation of values in capital 
stocks, bonds and real estate. 9 

As an illustration of his method of giving 
away his income, it may be mentioned that 
about 1868 or 1870 he owned several lots or 
squares in the southwestern part of Philadel- 
phia, which he was interested in building up. 
This section was in the neighborhood around 
Carpenter, Christian, Reed, Dickinson, Mt. 
Holly and Lingo Streets, between Fifteenth 
and Twentieth. As these properties were 
sold, he made advances to insure the erection 
of buildings, and reserved yearly ground 
rents, according to a local Philadelphia 
custom now not so much in vogue as formerly. 
Of those hundred or more ground rents nearly 

* Before he died he had amassed a fortune of $20,000,000, of 
which he disbursed $5,000,000 during his lifetime to various 
charities. In his offerings it was sufficient for him that they 
were deserving and commanded his confidence, and public men- 
tion of his contributions was a matter of great dislike, for, of 
all things, he especially avoided notoriety. 


all were given to various charities during his 

While Williamson's charities were usu- 
ally bestowed secretly, coming as something 
of a surprise to the beneficiaries, there 
were numerous occasions when he openly 
made them conditional, in order to get other 
people stirred up. On one occasion, for in- 
stance, when he was asked to give $10,000 to 
the Home for Incurables — to which he had 
given before, and in which he was deeply in- 
terested — for the purpose of purchasing addi- 
tional ground adjoining the Home, he replied 
to the committee that if they would raise 
$5000 from other people by a certain time, he 
would give the other $5000. This was accom- 
plished, and thus the circle of the Home's 
friends and supporters was enlarged. 

From the time that it became publicly 
known that he was a large giver he was, of 
course, beset on all sides by appeals, and his 
mail brought begging letters from all over 
the world, some of them absurd or impudent 
— the common experience of men and women 
known to be wealthy or generous-minded. 
Many of these requests, both distant and 


local, could only be ignored. But to any 
straightforward and apparently worthy cause 
or person, he would listen patiently and 
sympathetically, generally asking a few pene- 
trating questions, and usually, without giving 
aid at the time, would close the interview by 
saying: " I will look into the matter." 

This was no idle answer, intended only to 
get rid of suppliants. It was a promise which 
he fulfilled. He " looked into the matter " 
with surprising thoroughness; and if the 
decision was favorable, the amount of his gift 
was usually surprising, also. 

This desire to get the facts at first hand 
and to decide for himself is illustrated in a 
characteristic story told of him. On one 
occasion he had contributed to a certain cause 
in which a lady was deeply interested. She 
said to her father that while it was a generous 
gift, it was insufficient to accomplish her pur- 
pose, but she was afraid to ask again. Her 
father suggested that she should write a letter 
and he would deliver it. But Williamson 
was not satisfied with that; he asked that the 
daughter should come to him; he wanted the 
story of need from her own lips, and also 


wished to reassure her of his confidence in 
the work. When she went away from his 
dingy office, she carried an additional check 
for $10,000. 

The circle of his sympathy was wide. Any 
great calamity stirred his heart; but also the 
poverty and distress of the humblest peddler 
who strolled into his office with a basket of 
cheap notions on his arm, from whom he 
would always buy something — perhaps a spool 
or two of thread, a paper of pins, or a stove 
lifter — odds and ends which he subsequently 
gave away when occasion offered. He was 
invariably strongly moved to help the man 
who was trying to help himself, however 
humble the effort. But for mere beggars, low 
or high, he had little sympathy. 

Among the many benevolences of the last 
decade or so of Williamson's life a few stand 
out with special boldness on account of the 
large sums given while he was living. Among 
these the University of Pennsylvania at one 
time received a gift of fourteen acres of city 
property valued at $200,000; the Episcopal 
Hospital ten acres valued at $75,000 ; and the 
Woman's Hospital and College authorities 


thirty-eight acres in the southern section of 
the city, supposed to be worth more than 
$ioo,ooo. Besides the $50,000 or so given to 
Swarthmore College several years before, the 
sum of $80,000 was added in 1888, which the 
trustees used in founding " the I. V. William- 
son Professorship of Civil and Mechanical 

Of the larger charities, also, were the 
Mercantile Library, the Merchant's Fund, 
and the House of Refuge. His active interest 
in the Mercantile Library dated back to 1873 
or earlier, when one of the directors who knew 
Isaiah V. Williamson approached him on the 
subject of giving $10,000 to establish a " Wil- 
liamson Fund," the annual income to be 
used in the purchase of new books of interest 
to mechanics and tradespeople, with William- 
son's name printed on the inside label as the 
donor, thus keeping his generosity before the 
patrons of the Library. He replied that the 
notion was "all rubbish," and he could not 
allow his name to be used in that manner. 
The disappointed director gave it up and 
went home. However, Williamson " thought 
it over " in his usual way, and in a few days 


informed the director that he would do a little 
something for him. Deeds were turned over 
to the Library, embracing valuable timber 
and coal lands in Clinton County, worth 
$35,000 or more; and later, other gifts of 
ground rents brought his contribution up to 
$50,000. Thus eventually, whether he would 
or no, the " Williamson Fund " was estab- 
lished in the Mercantile Library. 

As to his interest in the Merchants' Fund, 
no doubt Ludwig had a good deal to do with 
that. He was one of its organizers in 1854, 
and its president from 1869 till his death in 
the latter part of 1889; and its purpose was 
very near his heart — to aid fellow-merchants 
who had met with reverses and were in dis- 
tress. It was natural that Williamson, who 
valued so highly Ludwig's judgment in benev- 
olences, should sympathize with him in this 
manner, especially as he had himself passed 
through the struggles and anxieties of a city 
merchant. In the early '70's, accordingly, he 
joined with others in various subscriptions to 
this fund, his own amounting to about $15,000. 
Feeling the importance of a largely increased 
permanent endowment, he worked actively to 


get others aroused on the subject; and not 
meeting with the response he desired, he 
simply did it himself — a little later conveying 
to the association property on Chestnut Street 
above Seventh, worth $85,000 or more, and 
making his total subscription to the fund 
$100,000 at the lowest valuation. Among the 
managers and ardent friends of the fund in 
those days was Edmund A. Souder, one of 
Williamson's young business contemporaries 
when he first came to Philadelphia. 

Regarding the gift of $105,000 to the 
House of Refuge, there are some especially 
interesting features. In one of the semi-official 
accounts of the history of that institution the 
date of his gift is entered as February 2, 1889, 
only a month before his death. But the sub- 
scription seems to have been made during the 
preceding year, in three payments of $35,000 
each. The special occasion was the removal 
of certain departments of the institution from 
the city to the country, in order to erect new 
buildings and establish the " cottage " system 
at Glen Mills, giving the boys more freedom, 
and so far as possible doing away with the 
prison-like methods of former years. The idea 


had so appealed to William Massey, the 
wealthy brewer, that he had recently sub- 
scribed $100,000 to it. Williamson must have 
been familiar with the history of the insti- 
tution from the first, as it was organized in 
1 826, a few months after he came to Philadel- 
phia, and have known the long devotion to it 
of Isaac Collins, Alexander Henry, and their 
children from the first. But his attention had 
been particularly drawn to it for some time, 
leading him to make a careful study of the 
whole situation, and his interest in the House 
of Refuge became so great, through his 
examination of its past history and future 
plans, that he resolved to give it a lift whether 
or no. Meeting Massey a little later, their 
conversation is said to have been something 
like this: 

"They tell me," remarked Williamson, 
" that you have given a hundred thousand to 
move the House of Refuge boys out into the 
country. That is good. There is something 
in nature to heal the diseased mind as well as 
the diseased body." 

" That is true ; but it is not enough. What 


will you give? " asked Massey, in his whole- 
hearted way. 

" I thought about it all last night," said 
Williamson. " The forlorn boy lies close to 
my conscience; and I have promised them a 
hundred thousand or so." 

" Bless my heart! Have you? Come and 
take lunch with me." 

" Thank you, Mr. Massey, but I have my 
lunch here in my pocket." 

During those years — the 'yo's and onward 
— Williamson's old affection for the country 
relatives and country life was as warm as ever, 
manifesting itself in various ways as occasion 

In 1 875 he came to the rescue of the Library 
Company at Fallsington, the village of his 
early years. The Library was incorporated 
in 1802 — the year preceding his birth — with 
thirty-five shareholders. It began with 138 
volumes, some of which are still in service. 
As a boy and young man he must have made 
use of the Library frequently. It had been 
maintained after a fashion ever since, but its 
scope was very limited and in the early '70's 


its life seemed flickering. The organization 
was barely kept alive through the courage 
and perseverance of three or four individ- 
uals. One of the villagers kept the cases of 
books at his house, and acted as librarian, with 
a trifling fee. But Williamson put new life 
into the enterprise by giving $5000 as an 
endowment fund, of which the interest was 
to be used in purchasing new books. This 
was made conditional upon the capital stock 
being increased to at least one hundred paid- 
up shares providing for the maintenance and 
incidental expenses of the Library. The result 
was that the organization took on a new and 
larger life. Public enthusiasm was aroused. 
A library building was erected four years 
later, to which Williamson contributed one- 
half the expense. At the time of the Library's 
centennial, in 1902, there were more than 
seven thousand volumes listed in its catalogue. 

Williamson also had a part in the forma- 
tion of the Bucks County Association, in 1876, 
in which Judge Edward M. Paxson, Amos 
Briggs, John O. James, Theodore C. Search, 
and John Stackhouse were officers of the first 


Board of Managers, and of which many 
eminent Philadelphians, who had come from 
Bucks County, became members. The pur- 
pose, besides providing a suitable rallying 
place during the Centennial Exhibition, was 
to perfect a permanent organization, with 
rooms and social features, and to afford what- 
ever encouragement and protection it might 
to young men settling down in the business of 
the city. 



|S SEEN in preceding chapters, there 
had been notable indications for many 
years of Williamson's peculiar interest 
in charitable efforts for boys and girls. 
Foreign institutions of that sort had 
greatly appealed to him while abroad, before 
he was forty, and all through his bachelor 
life these feelings seem to have gathered 
power. It has been noted how the Lincoln 
Institution for soldiers' orphans was one of 
the first benevolences to which he contributed 
largely. Other asylums and educational insti- 
tutions for children later received his sub- 
stantial aid. In the management of some of 
them he bore an active part. In the work of 
the Educational Home for Boys, for instance, 
he was a member of the Board of Council, a 
body of representative men giving counsel 
and aid to the Board of Managers, all of 
whom were women; and when it was pro- 



posed to start a girls' department of the same 
institution, he became a member of the com- 
mittee appointed to received contributions to 
that end. He was a member, also, of the 
Board of Trustees of the Union School and 
Children's Home. These and other official 
duties were quite likely to have increased his 
knowledge of the need and intensified his feel- 
ing; but to go deeper, they were really varied 
forms of expression of a feeling that had 
existed for years, of which one of the latest 
and most expressive was his study of the 
House of Refuge conditions and his gift to it 
of $105,000 during the last year of his life. 

There is abundant evidence, also, that boys 
who were dependent on themselves were 
always especially on his mind. Mr. Helm- 
bold says that he often revealed his deep in- 
terest in them by some sudden exclamation 
like this: " I see so many boys on the street! 
I think if they had better opportunities they 
might make good men !" And to a reporter of 
the Philadelphia Times he said : " It was 
seeing boys, ragged and barefooted, playing 
or lounging about the streets, growing up 
with no education, no trade, no idea of use- 


fulness, that caused me to think of founding 
a school where every boy could be taught 
some trade free of expense." He talked with 
his intimate friends — Mr. Lewis, Mr. Lud- 
wig, Mr. Wanamaker and others — about " the 
boys " many times, often with emotion that 
was near to tears. 

And he was equally emphatic in his oft- 
expressed opinion that the abolition of the 
apprentice system was one of the greatest 
mistakes of contemporary society. 

The thought of founding some sort of an 
institution for boys came as early as " the 
fifties " into his mind. Any doubt on this 
score would disappear after reading the brief 
preamble to the Foundation Deed presented 
to the Trustees of the Free School of Me- 
chanical Trades, December 1, 1888. Four 
times within a few paragraphs he asserts and 
reasserts this fact : 

" The subject of the training and edu- 
cation of youth to habits of industry and 
economy, and the importance of their learn- 
ing trades, so that they may be able to earn 
their living by the labor of their hands, has 
for a long time received my careful attention." 


— " For nearly thirty years I have carefully 
considered this subject, with the intention at 
the proper time of founding and endowing a 
free institution." — " The time has now arrived 
at which I can put my long cherished inten- 
tion into effect, and devote and dedicate to 
the object a sufficient fund out of means which 
have been saved and accumulated for the 
purpose." — " Now, know all men by these 
presents, that I, Isaiah V. Williamson, of the 
City of Philadelphia, merchant, in order to 
carry out the object I so long have had in view, 
in the hope of supplying a long-felt want in 
the community, and with this intention and 
design of founding and endowing in perpetuity 
an institution to be known as ' The William- 
son Free School of Mechanical Trades,' and 
hereinafter designated as the School, do here- 
by make, constitute, and appoint my friends, 
John Baird, James C. Brooks, Lemuel Coffin, 
Edward Longstreth, William C. Ludwig, 
Henry C. Townsend, and John Wanamaker, 
the Trustees." 

It seems that Williamson's thought, at one 
time, had been to provide for such a school 
by will, to be organized after his death; and 


to that end Mr. Helmbold made a " first 
rough draft " of a codicil, the manuscript of 
which he has preserved. It bears marks of 
dictation, with some of Williamson's charac- 
teristic forms of expression. Here we find 
his scheme in its formative stage, only partly 
worked out, but of much the same nature as 
the well rounded-out foundation deed into 
which it developed. He uses the term 
" managers " instead of the later " trustees." 
His opening paragraph raises a complaint 
afterwards omitted, regarding trades unions : 
" The subject of the proper training and edu- 
cation of the young to habits of economy and 
industry, whereby they shall become self- 
sustaining, has received my careful attention ; 
and the unwarrantable position taken to some 
extent by Trades Unions and other Labor 
organizations in regard to apprenticeships — 
assuming as they do, arbitrarily, to control 
and limit the number that shall be admitted 
to learn a trade — is fraught with great danger 
to the community, in compelling the young 
to grow up in habits of idleness, leading at 
times to vice and crime." 

Three features of the manuscript notes, 


however, are of special interest, showing that 
Williamson then entertained the idea of 
an institution for both sexes, the girls to be 
trained, among other things, in cooking and 
all forms of plain housekeeping; that the title 
then in mind was the " Institute (or School) 
for the Mental and Industrial Education of 
the Young"; and that four million dollars 
was the amount he was first planning to be- 
queath, the institution to be " organized as 
soon as practicable " after his death. 

But gradually, as Williamson revolved 
his great purpose after the cautious man- 
ner of years, looking at it repeatedly from 
all sides, the desire grew upon him to get the 
scheme started in his lifetime. The counsel 
of some of his friends confirmed him in this. 
His attorney, Franklin B. Gowen, formerly 
President of the Reading Railroad, and a 
friend in whose judgment he had the greatest 
confidence — was one of those who urged him 
not to wait, arguing among other things that 
if he carried out his purpose while living a 
collateral inheritance tax would be saved. 
And there were the examples of other men, 
either as warning or inspiration — the long 


controversy over the will of Samuel J. Tilden, 
illustrating with peculiar force the old story 
of the uncertainty of bequests ; or the experi- 
ence of Peter Cooper, on the other hand, who 
for years had the pleasure of seeing Cooper 
Institute thronged with young men and women 
who were being fitted, through his bounty, 
for lives of useful industry. Men before 
Isaiah Williamson, and men who have come 
after him, have distributed a large part of 
their wealth while living; and who can say 
that his example may not have played some 
part in shaping the later policy of such men 
as Andrew Carnegie, with his free libraries 
scattered all over the land; of Anthony J. 
Drexel, with the Drexel Institute of West 
Philadelphia; of P. A. B. Widener, with the 
Home for Crippled Children, on Old York 
Road; of Jacob Tome, with the splendid 
school since located at Port Deposit, Mary- 
land ; and of others like them, far and near. 

Mr. Helmbold, in consequence of his close 
relation to Isaiah Williamson as private sec- 
retary, knew something of the mental process 
that had gone on, and of the changed decision 
in favor of a life-time foundation. Realizing 


also, more than those who were not in hourly 
contact with him, his increasing feebleness, 
the secretary's fear was that it might be put 
off, until it was too late, and for a year or 
more, so far as he felt at liberty to do so, he 
had been urging the aged philanthropist to 
immediate action of some sort. One day, 
scarcely half a year before his death, William- 
son returned to the office enfeebled after a 
slight illness, and brought up the subject 
again, asking his secretary: 

" Who do you think would be a good man 
to take up his matter? " 

Mr. Helmbold's relief can be imagined. 
As he expressed it: "I jumped at anybody." 
Various names were mentioned, showing how 
definitely that Williamson had been thinking. 
But the imperative thing was to get the project 
going at once. 

From that time it was pushed forward 
with all speed. Within a few weeks the 
trustees were selected and their consent to 
serve gained; the two millions of securities 
were picked out; and the foundation deed 
was drawn up in all its minute details. This 
paper, however, bears no marks of haste. Any 


intelligent man, reading it for the first time, 
must confess that it is an extraordinary docu- 
ment, striking out here and there on new lines, 
with nothing similar for a pattern. Aside from 
legal phraseology that the attorney necessarily 
gave to it in its final form, the individuality 
of the donor stamps it throughout, in pro- 
cesses of thought, forms of expression, and 
completeness of detail. In its original 
pamphlet form it fills some thirty octavo 
pages. Following the preamble stating its 
purpose, the name of the school, the appoint- 
ment of the trustees and the fiscal trustee — 
(the Pennsylvania Company for Insurances 
on Lives and Granting Annuities), is a 
schedule of the securities transferred, capital 
and preferred stocks in banks, railroads and 
navigation companies, insurance and indus- 
trial companies, having a par value of 
$1,596,000, and later appraised at about 
$2,100,000; directions are then given for that 
appraisement at their market value, and a 
division of the total sum into two parts, one- 
fifth for a building fund and four-fifths for an 
endowment fund, the securities " most readily 
and advantageously salable " to be set aside 


for the building fund ; also regarding the use 
and investment of those funds, and of accre- 
tions by income or future bequests; the 
purchase of a site, and the erection and out- 
fitting of buildings for the school ; the employ- 
ment of teachers and helpers; the conditions 
of admission of scholars, and their obligations, 
care, training, discipline, and records of 
achievement after leaving the school ; closing 
with provisions for public annual reports of 
" the operations " of the school, for filling 
vacancies in the Board of Trustees, and for 
incorporation if so desired. The core of this 
document, however — its peculiar and original 
feature — is of course the part which outlines 
the nature of the School, as follows : 

" C. I direct that the said School shall be known and 
designated as ' The Williamson Free School of Mechani- 
cal Trades.' 

" D. The Trustees shall employ from time to time, 
at proper compensation to be fixed and established by the 
Trustees, competent officers, teachers, instructors, agents, 
mechanics, workmen, and servants to take charge of the 
said School, and to feed, clothe, educate, and instruct in 
trades as hereinafter provided all who may be admitted as 
scholars to the School. 

" E. When the School is prepared to receive scholars 
the Trustees shall from time to time receive and admit to 


the School as scholars as many able-bodied and healthy 
young male persons of good moral character, of such ages 
between sixteen and eighteen years, as may from time to 
time be determined by the Trustees, as in the opinion of 
the Trustees the extent, capacity, and income of the 
School will provide for. Preference shall be given, in the 
admission of scholars: First, to those born in the city of 
Philadelphia ; second, to those born in the county of Bucks, 
State of Pennsylvania ; third, to those born in Montgomery 
or Delaware Counties, Pennsylvania; fourth, to those 
born elsewhere in Pennsylvania; fifth, to those born in 
the State of New Jersey; sixth, to those born else- 
where in the United States. And in all cases, other things 
being equal, in the order of preference, the preference shall 
always be given to the poor. But I especially direct that 
no scholar who has been properly admitted with reference 
to the order of preference, shall thereafter be displaced to 
make way for any later or subsequent applicant who may 
be higher in the order of preference hereinabove directed 
to be observed. And the decision of the Trustees as to 
the number of scholars to be admitted, and as to the con- 
flicting claims of any or all rival candidates for admission, 
shall be final and conclusive upon all parties. All scholars 
admitted to the School shall be bound as indentured 
apprentices to the Trustees, by their parents or guardians 
or other competent authority, for such respective periods 
as the Trustees may from time to time determine: Pro- 
vided, That no indenture shall be for less than three years 
nor extend beyond the minority of the scholar. 

" F. All scholars admitted to the School shall be fed 
with good, wholesome food ; plainly, neatly, and comfort- 
ably clad, and decently and fitly housed and lodged. They 
shall also, if in the opinion of the Trustees they have 


not been sufficiently educated before their admission, be 
thoroughly instructed and grounded in the rudiments of 
a good common-school English education, embracing spell- 
ing, reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, 
history, particularly of the United States, and also such 
of the natural and physical sciences and lower mathe- 
matics as in the opinion of the Trustees it may be impor- 
tant for them to acquire, to fit themselves for the trades 
they are to learn. In describing this course of English 
education I do not intend to make it obligatory that all 
the branches I have named shall be taught, or that those 
not named shall be excluded, nor do I intend that any 
one fixed or established course shall be taken by all the 
scholars, I leave all this to the discretion of the Trustees, 
but I request that they shall at all times bear in mind the 
fact that the main object I have in view is to train young 
men to mechanical trades, so that they may earn their 
own living, and that while the acquisition of any branches 
of an English education which may be of aid to them in 
their several trades is necessary and important, any higher 
or advanced knowledge which might render them dis- 
satisfied with or unfit for their employments is unnecessary 
and may be disadvantageous. I expressly direct that each 
and every scholar shall be compelled to learn and be thor- 
oughly instructed in one good mechanical trade, so that 
when they leave the School on the completion of their 
indentures they may be able to support themselves by the 
labor of their own hands. 

" I leave to the discretion of the Trustees the selection 
of the several kinds of mechanical trades to be taught, and 
the determination of the particular one that shall be taught 
to and acquired by each scholar, but I particularly desire 
that the taste, capacity, intelligence, and adaptability of 


each scholar be ascertained and considered before assign- 
ing him to any particular trade. Among the trades which 
may be taught are those of baker, blacksmith, bricklayer, 
butcher, cabinet-maker, car-builder, carpenter, carriage- 
maker, coppersmith, the crafts of constructing, manag- 
ing, and repairing electrical appliances and apparatus, 
foundryman, gas-fitter, gold-beater, harness-maker, hatter, 
locksmith, machinist, marble-mason, moulder, painter, 
paper-hanger, pattern-maker, plasterer, plumber, printer, 
saddler, shoemaker, steam engineer, slater, stone-cutter, 
stonemason, tailor, tinsmith, tiler, turner, wheelwright, 
and many others. In mentioning these several trades I do 
not intend to make it obligatory upon the Trustees to 
teach all of them, nor do I intend to exclude any of those 
which are not mentioned, and I authorize the Trustees to 
the extent that the cultivation, care, and adornment of the 
lands and grounds connected with the School will admit, 
to instruct such of the scholars as show taste and capacity 
for the occupation, in the art of farming and gardening, 
or either. 

" I desire and direct that the moral and religious train- 
ing of the scholars shall be properly looked after and 
cared for by the Trustees, but that there be no attempt by 
the Trustees at proselytism among the scholars, and no 
favoritism shown by the Trustees to any particular sect 
or creed. I especially direct that each scholar shall be 
taught to speak the truth at all times, and I particularly 
direct and charge as an imperative duty upon the Trustees 
that each and every scholar shall be thoroughly trained in 
habits of frugality, economy, and industry, as above all 
others the one great lesson which I desire to have impressed 
upon every scholar and inmate of the, School is that- in 
this country every able-bodied, healthy young man who 


has learned a good mechanical trade, and is truthful, 
honest, frugal, temperate, and industrious, is certain to 
succeed in life, and to become a useful and respected 
member of society. 

" I desire and direct that the physical training of the 
scholars shall be carefully attended to, that they shall have 
proper exercise and recreation, so that so far as such a 
result can be brought about by training and care, each 
one may grow up with a sound mind in a sound body. 

" I direct that the boarding, lodging, clothing, educa- 
tion, instruction in trades, and all other advantages to be 
derived by the scholars under this deed, shall in all respects 
be gratuitous, and that under no circumstances shall any 
charge be made to any scholar for the same, or any fees, re- 
wards, or other compensations be accepted by the Trustees 
from or on account of any scholar. 

" G. If, in the opinion of the Trustees, any scholar 
should become incompetent to learn or master a trade, 
or become intractable or insubordinate, or be guilty of 
vice or crime, he may be expelled from the School by the 
Trustees, and I direct that all indentures shall be so drawn 
as to permit this to be done. I particularly direct that 
the decision of the Trustees as to whether a scholar de- 
serves expulsion under this article G shall be final and 
conclusive upon the subject. And I further direct that 
the Trustees, by and with the consent of the other party 
to any indenture, and of the scholar, may cancel the 
indentures of any scholar for any reason which in the 
judgment of the Trustees is good and sufficient. 

" H. All scholars who have not been previously ex- 
pelled, or whose indentures have not been canceled as 
provided for in article G shall leave the institution as 
scholars and cease to be the recipients of its benefits on 


the completion of the periods of their several indentures. 
But nothing in this article contained shall be construed 
to prevent the Trustees from employing as agents, teachers, 
instructors, workmen, or in any capacity, any scholar who 
has served his full time in the School and has left the 
same with a good character. And the Trustees may in 
their discretion provide for such a system of money 
premiums and rewards dependent upon good character 
and proficiency as shall enable those of the scholars 
entitled to its benefits to receive from the Trustees, when 
they leave the School at the full expiration of their inden- 
tures, a sum of money not exceeding in the aggregate fifty 
dollars to any one scholar, which sum of money shall be 
paid by the Trustees out of any of the moneys received by 
them as income of the School." 

Aside from the deed of trust Isaiah Wil- 
liamson repeatedly expressed his views, less 
formally but no less clearly, by letter or in 
conversation. In a letter dated December 13, 
a copy of which was sent to each Trustee, the 
founder said : " I have thought it proper and 
fitting that, at the beginning of the undertak- 
ing, I should bring to your attention my own 
views about the details of the establishment 
and the management of the School, and sub- 
mit for your consideration some suggestions 
of my own, which have been the result of 
patient and careful consideration of the sub- 
ject which is now committed to your hands." 


He then mentions his preferences in regard to 
a site; suggests that it would be well not to 
bother themselves about the question of build- 
ings until the location has been finally chosen ; 
advocates the " Home Life " method for the 
School ; suggests that farm buildings on what- 
ever property purchased should be utilized, 
if possible; and the boys might be set at work 
at once, making bricks or quarry stone on the 
place, for new buildings ; that the erection of 
a large central building with lecture rooms 
and the like, might be deferred " until it is 
demonstrated that the School will be a suc- 
cess, and until the number of inmates is 
sufficient to justify the expenditure"; and 
gives his opinion that it would be well to 
locate the School near some flourishing village 
or town, where the boys could attend churches 
of different denominations, according to their 
preferences. " I have prepared this letter," 
he says in conclusion, " with no intention of 
controlling your own judgments upon the 
various matters touched upon." The reasons 
he gives for the " Home Life " idea are of 
special interest: 


" I am decidedly in favor of what is called ' Home 
Life,' as distinguished from that of one large institution; 
and, from all I have read and reflected upon the subject, 
I think the advantages of the former System are as follows : 

" 1. The boys will be under better moral control by 
being inmates of small homes and having the advantages 
of home life. 

" 2. It avoids the necessity of large structures, and the 
consequent temptation to erect imposing buildings and 
make an architectural display. 

" 3. It enables you to feel your way, and to provide 
from time to time only such buildings as can readily be 
filled by scholars; whereas, if the other plan of one large 
institute is adopted, there might be a much larger expendi- 
ture made than could actually be required for those who 
apply for admission." 

The seven trustees chosen by Williamson 
were not only men of demonstrated ability in 
large affairs, but belonged to his circle of 

John Baird was a successful and wealthy 
marble merchant, who had begun with hard 
work, polishing marble by his own toil in the 
cellar of his building on Ridge Avenue, and 
had a wide practical knowledge of the field 
of mechanical trades. At this time he was 
President of the City Bank. 


James C. Brooks, as president of the 
Southwark Foundry and Machine Company, 
also contributed a valuable technical knowl- 
edge. Though the youngest man on the 
Board — forty-five at that time — he had had 
large experience as an iron-worker, was 
known for remarkable executive ability, and 
was an intimate friend of Longstreth as well 
as of Williamson. 

With Lemuel Coffin, Williamson had 
close business relations in the early days of 
the drygoods business, his great abilities 
eventually admitting him to partnership in 
the firm that had been Williamson, Burroughs 
& Company; and at this time he was head of 
the drygoods firm of Coffin, Altemus & Com- 
pany, a vestryman of Holy Trinity Church, 
and devoted to church work. 

Edward Longstreth's acquaintance with 
Williamson had not been so long as that of the 
other trustees, but he was a special friend of 
Mr. E. Y. Townsend, through whose recom- 
mendation and influence he consented to 
serve. He had a machine-shop experience to 
contribute, from the time he started as an 


apprentice in the Baldwin Locomotive Works 
until he became the General Manager and 
a partner — on physician's order retiring in 
middle life, with a fortune. 

William C. Ludwig, as already noted, had 
been closely associated with Williamson for 
many years in charitable work; also in busi- 
ness in former years, and on the corporation 
boards of various railroads. He began life as 
a compositor on a newspaper in Reading, 
where he was born. Like Williamson, on 
attaining his majority, he went to Philadel- 
phia, started in drygoods on Third Street, 
and retired with a fortune at about the end of 
the Civil War. Later he busied himself in 
various banking, insurance and railroad enter- 
prises. In social intercourse, or summer out- 
ings at Bryn Mawr and elsewhere, they had 
often talked over the scheme of the indus- 
trial school, Ludwig making many valuable 

The only lawyer on the board was Henry 
C. Townsend. His brother, E. Y. Townsend, 
of the Cambria Iron Company, was one of 
Williamson's longest and closet friends, and 


he himself had for many years enjoyed his 
friendship and confidence. He was a man of 
the quiet sort, rarely seen in Court, having a 
lucrative law practice in administering large 
estates, and thoroughly conversant with the 
real estate business, knowledge which proved 
most valuable in the future work of the board. 

John Wanamaker had for years been 
closely attached to Isaiah Williamson. A 
strong affection had gradually developed be- 
tween the older and the younger man, reveal- 
ing mutual humor, and sympathetic points of 
view, especially regarding efforts in behalf of 
" the boys." The subject of industrial schools 
for boys was the occasion of many and long 
conferences together. His confidence in 
Wanamaker showed itself in more ways than 
one. Sometimes when they sat together at 
some board meeting or public assembly, he 
would whisper: " Thee will speak for me, as 
well as for thyself, John, at this meeting." 

A preliminary meeting of the Trustees 
was called for November 24, 1888, in this 

" A Meeting of the Trustees to be appointed under 


the Deed of Trust from I. V. Williamson, founding and 
endowing the Williamson Free School, will be held at 
the office of the Cambria Iron Company, South Fourth 
Street, on Saturday the 24th of November. You, having 
kindly consented to act as one of such Trustees, are 
requested to be present at that meeting." 

This meeting was mainly devoted to an 
informal discussion of the donor's plans, and 
some slight changes in the proposed deed of 
trust were suggested. 

The red-letter day, however, was Decem- 
ber 1, 1888, when the Trustees met again with 
Isaiah Williamson, at the office of the Cam- 
bria Iron Company, to accept the foundation 
deed and sign its conditions. The old man 
had to be wheeled in from his carriage in a 
rolling chair, but his spirit was alert and joy- 
ful. Mr. Gowen and Mr. Helmbold were 
also present. John Wanamaker presided at 
the opening, though declining a nomination 
as permanent president. Upon the formal 
organization of the board, Mr. Baird was 
chosen president, Mr. Brooks treasurer, and, 
according to Mr. Williamson's suggestion in 
the deed, Mr. Helmbold was selected as sec- 
retary. Mr. Gowen read the deed, Mr. Wil- 


liamson's plans were freely discussed, the 
necessary papers were signed, and the deed 
was ordered printed for the use of the Trustees 
and for limited circulation. 

Reports of this meeting of course ap- 
peared at once in the city papers, and the news 
went around the world. A few days later the 
Foundation deed, also, was printed in full in 
the daily papers. With scarcely an exception 
the newspaper reports and editorial comments 
were full of appreciation and praise for the 
philanthropist, both for the greatness of the 
idea and for his purpose to get it partly real- 
ized, at least, while living. Here and there, 
however, a discordant note was heard. Some 
of the Trades Union people were at first in- 
clined to criticize the apprenticeship features, 
as was to be expected. One editorial writer 
asked indignantly why Isaiah Williamson 
proposed " to spend all his money upon big, 
strapping boys, and let the poor delicate girls 
take care of themselves " ; suggested that it 
was questionable whether Girard College had 
really been a benefit to those raised and edu- 
cated in it; and predicted that "Williamson's 


institution " would become " a great pauper 
factory instead of a place where boys could 
be taught to fight the battle of life success- 
fully." Some thought it would be a great 
mistake to locate such a school out in the 
country, and that it should be in the city at the 
very center of industrial enterprises. Others 
hailed the quiet, shy, reticent little man as one 
of the greatest philanthropists and benefactors 
of the race, to be named with such men as 
Astor, Cooper, Girard, and Peabody. 

The leading journals of other cities all 
over the country added their tribute of praise. 
The New York Tribune's editorial ended in 
this way: "The gift is as sensible as it is 
magnificent. It is at least open to doubt 
whether the man who makes two colleges 
stand where one was enough before has rend- 
ered a real service ; but a school like this will 
fill a great want, and is a sign of a wise 
reaction. The venerable man who lightens 
up his closing years with an act of such 
splendid magnificence may take some pleas- 
ure in the thought that he has illustrated the 
existence of the purest motives that can guide 


the human soul, and has helped to give men a 
better opinion of mankind." The New York 
Sun, assuming that the total gift to the School 
would eventually be from five to fifteen mil- 
lions, said : " There never was anything in the 
Girard bequest; at its lowest figures it is 
fitting, therefore, that there should be nothing 
in history like Mr. Williamson's vast gift. It 
surpasses in magnitude the aggregate bene- 
factions of Peabody ; it exceeds the magnificent 
Girard bequest; at its lowest figures it is 
larger than the entire endowment of Harvard, 
Yale or Columbia; and at its largest limit it 
equals the combined wealth of these three 
great universities. Yet, with characteristic 
modesty, the donor calls his institution a 
School. Such figures stagger the imagination. 
Only two gifts in human history stand in the 
same rank. One is the application by Senator 
Leland Stanford of $22,000,000 of his fabu- 
lous wealth to found a university; and the 
other is the gift of 50,000,000 francs, or 
$10,000,000, by Baron Hirsch, the great 
Vienna banker, in aid of the Hebrew charities 
of Europe." 


While these comments were based on 
too large an assumption, it is a fair indication 
of the approval expressed throughout the 
nation at that time. 



HE Board of Trustees took an office 
in the Forrest Building, on Fourth 
Street, making it their headquarters. 
At a meeting held there on Decem- 
ber ioth, two committees were ap- 
pointed : — one on " Grounds, buildings and 
improvements," consisting of Mr. Wana- 
maker, chairman, Mr. Longstreth and Mr. 
Brooks ; the other on " Finance," consisting of 
Mr. Coffin, chairman, Mr. Ludwig and Mr. 
Townsend. Mr. Baird, as president of the 
Board was ex-officio a member of both com- 
mittees. The preliminary work was pushed 
forward. In spite of wintry conditions and 
the exactions of the holiday season, the first 
consideration was to choose a suitable subur- 
ban site. The founder's natural preference 
for Bucks County, his birthplace, and long 
dear to him by many associations, was held in 
abeyance to the judgment of the Trustees. 



From the first he sought to give them an 
absolutely free hand, whether in large things 
or small. He had picked his men, and he 
felt that he could safely put on their shoulders 
the burden of management. Some of the 
Trustees doubted the wisdom of placing the 
School in the country. Mr. Baird particularly 
favored a city location. But all deferred to 
the feeling of the donor. As soon as the 
school scheme became known in a general 
way, they were, of course, beset with offers of 
country estates, and something like two hun- 
dred possible sites eventually came under 

The first actual trip of inspection occurred 
toward the end of January, when Isaiah Wil- 
liamson accompanied the Trustees in a special 
train, to examine the old Sharon Farm in 
Bucks County. They were shown every 
courtesy by officials of the Newtown Railroad 
and local representatives. The farm was seen 
to be admirable in many ways, but its distance 
of a mile or so from the railroad operated 
against it in the final choice. Williamson, 
though physically feeble and needing to be 


assisted in and out of the car, was mentally as 
bright and companionable as ever, and re- 
sponded quickly to any humorous remark. He 
especially enjoyed meeting some old friend9 
in the country whom he had not seen for forty 
or fifty years. 

In the next two or three weeks several 
other trips of inspection were made by mem- 
bers of the Board, notwithstanding their many 
pressing business cares ; for they were resolved 
to make no mistakes. 

On the 25th of February, 1889, William- 
son made another trip with the Trustees — this 
time to Delaware County, to inspect the Arm- 
strong Farm. But it was not until Friday, 
March 1, only six days before his death, that 
an inspection was made of the properties near 
Media, which several of the Trustees had 
seen before, and which were subsequently 
chosen. On that trip all the Trustees were 
present except Mr. Baird and Mr. Wana- 
maker. Mr. Williamson had provided for a 
special train and accompanied the party, who 
drove over farms in carriages. It was evident 
that the site pleased the founder ; but about all 


that he said, in his non-talkative way, was: 
"The place is very nice." 

Isaiah Williamson had been for years 
peculiarly susceptible to cold. It is not at all 
improbable that the effort of this winter trip 
was too great, and that it had much to do with 
his sudden illness and death six days later. 
The last thing that he spoke of before sinking 
into final unconsciousness was the Media site, 
expressing to H. C. Townsend his approval of 
the Trustees in practically agreeing upon it 
the preceding day, and bidding Mr. Towns- 
end : " Be sure and get from the railroad com- 
pany a distinct statement and guarantee in 
writing of the privileges they propose to grant 
in connection with the school." 

This was his last business act, and almost 
his last word, spoken smilingly, and eminently 
characteristic — the ruling passion strong in 

How unexpected and sudden was Wil- 
liamson's illness may be seen from a letter 
which Mr. Ludwig wrote to him on Monday 
of that week, regarding the option on the 
Media property: 


Philada., March 4/89. 

" My dear Mr. Williamson: 

The Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting on 
Tuesday (tomorrow) at 12 o'clock, noon; and it is very 
desirable that you should be present, and get your views 
as to the propriety of purchasing the property near Media, 
which, we visited, with you, on Friday last. As our option 
to take the property will expire in a few days, and cannot 
be extended any further, it is highly important that prompt 
action be taken, or lose the opportunity of buying it. 

Hoping you will be able to attend the meeting, I 

Very truly yours, 

W. C. Ludwig." 

On the Monday when this letter was 
written, Williamson was at his office on Bank 
Street, and there in the afternoon he suffered 
from several fainting attacks. He was taken 
to his boarding house, and was unconscious 
all day Tuesday; he revived somewhat on 
Wednesday, and gave that last injunction to 
Townsend; and on Thursday morning at 
four o'clock (March 7, 1889) he quietly 
passed away. 

The Trustees had virtually decided for 
the Media property at the Tuesday meeting; 
and having the further sanction of the found- 
er's dying words, they took action at once. 


Before March had closed they were in posses- 
sion of signed papers necessary to secure the 
several parts of the site since occupied by the 
school buildings. 

To understand the value, work and use- 
fulness of The Williamson Free School of 
Mechanical Trades, a visit to the plant and a 
glance at the history of the past nineteen years 
is the best educator. One will find abundant 
evidence of the founder's wisdom and far- 
sightedness; of the practical value of the 
apprentice system established in the school, 
as an offset in some degree to the lapse of the 
old apprentice system. The eminent success 
of its graduates and the constant demand for 
their services in the world of work prove the 
thoroughness and excellence of the education 
the schools afford, largely due to the Presi- 
dent, John M. Shrigley, who has been in 
charge of the school from the first. 10 He was 
chosen as one of the secretaries of the Board 
of Trustees before Mr. Williamson's death, 
and took an active part in the search made 
for a suitable site ; he was elected to the school 

10 President Shrigley retired April I, 1912, and was suc- 
ceeded by Mr. Harry S. Bitting. On April 1, 1922, Mr. James 
A. Pratt became the third president. 


presidency later in that year, and was closely 
identified with all the work of laying out the 
grounds and erecting the buildings; he has 
been at the head of the management of the 
School in all the particulars of arranging its 
curriculum, selecting instructors and helpers, 
and providing for the study and work of the 
students, and their physical, mental and moral 
development from the beginning to this time. 

A visitor to the school today may take 
a train on the West Chester branch of the 
Pennsylvania Railroad to " Williamson 
School Station," established on the school 
grounds soon after their purchase, in 1889. 

Possibly the president, or one of the 
officers of the school, would meet him at the 
station and first take the visitor over the two 
hundred and eleven acres to give him a gen- 
eral view of the grounds bounded by the State 
Road (or Baltimore Pike) on the north, and 
Penn's Grove Road on the south. The original 
tract purchased by the Board of Trustees — 
and for which they received the deeds May 
17, 1889, at a cost of $46,489.80 — consisted 
mainly of the homesteads of Hiram Schofield, 
the brothers John and Jesse Hibberd, and 


Caspar W. Grey. This purchase included 
several smaller lots bought from other land- 
holders, in order to make the school property 
virtually square. 

Like everyone else the visitor would 
quickly concede that it is a beautiful spot — 
this gently rolling country with its springs 
and water courses, its broad pastures, its wood- 
land acres of old oaks and chestnuts, its distant 
views of fertile farms, thriving towns — natu- 
ral beauties enhanced by wise and not over- 
done landscape gardening, winding maca- 
damized drives, and an artistic as well as 
convenient grouping of the various school 
buildings. The great reservoir at the highest 
point of the grounds — some 380 feet above 
Delaware tidewater — would be noticed. Fed 
from native springs, it furnishes a strong 
flow of water, by gravity, through pipes to the 
buildings standing on somewhat lower levels. 

The stranger is shown around through 
these school buildings. He is taken into one 
of the eight or ten cottages where the young 
men live, each cottage having its large living 
room and its sleeping accommodations for 


twenty-four students, aside from the family in 
charge. While the cottages, like all the build- 
ings, are simple and plain architecturally, 
they are thoroughly convenient and homelike. 
All these students take their meals in the com- 
mon dining hall in the main building. 

After a glance at the power-house and 
laundry, the electric light building and other 
minor features of the school plant, a visit 
would be paid to the three different shops 
where more than two hundred picked young 
men spend specified hours of each day in 
learning and practicing trades they have 
elected to learn. Every new student spends 
six months in the wood-working department 
before entering upon the course of his chosen 
trade. These trades are classified in three 
principal divisions: woodworking, including 
carpentering, pattern and cabinet making, 
house finishing, the construction of roofs, 
doorways and the like; building, including 
the mixing of mortar and cement, the laying 
of stone and brick, the setting of ranges, furn- 
aces and boilers, laying tiles and the building 
of arches and tunnels; and machinery, includ- 
ing the use of tools and appliances, accurate 


bench work, steam fitting, steam and electrical 
engineering, and practical training in how to 
run steam and electrical engines or plants. 
The students are encouraged to make original 
designs in many instances, and to work out 
their own drawings. Thus the graduate goes 
forth thoroughly versed in the latest and best 
methods of his particular trade, as well as 
trained to manual dexterity through long 

Coming at length to the main (or Admin- 
istration) building, of three stories, built of 
granite quarried on the grounds, here are 
found the offices and committee rooms; the 
dining hall, or " commons," for all the stu- 
dents ; the library, with its volumes ; a number 
of class and recitation rooms where the stu- 
dents pursue their regular three-years' course 
in such studies as arithmetic, algebra and 
geometry, physical and political geography, 
English literature, history and civil govern- 
ment, physical science, chemistry, physiology 
and hygiene, elocution and vocal music, me- 
chanical and free-hand drawing; and on the 
second floor the large assembly hall, where 
simple chapel services are held every morn- 


ing, lectures and entertainments given from 
time to time, and commencements celebrated. 

The tablet to Isaiah Williamson's mem- 
ory, and the spot where he is buried in the 
entrance corridor, would be pointed out, as 
well as his portrait, his gold watch, and other 
souvenirs of his life's history. 

This Administration building was com- 
pleted in October, 1 891, and for convenience 
and usability has well stood the test of all the 
subsequent years. Soon after the purchase of 
the land, in 1889, Mr. Wanamaker, Chair- 
man of the Building Committee, requested 
several Philadelphia architects to submit 
plans, all to be equally compensated whether 
their work was accepted or not. Of that 
group, the architects eventually chosen were 
Furness, Evans & Company. Their final 
plans for the Administration building, the 
shops, and two or three of the cottages were 
largely based on suggestions and drawings 
offered by Mr. Baird, then President of the 
Board of Trustees, as the result not only of his 
long practical experience but of special 
investigation by Mr. Longstreth and himself 
of other schools at the time. Carrying out the 


founder's idea, Mr. Baird sought to avoid 
unnecessary ornamentation, to secure simplic- 
ity of construction, and the most perfect 
adaptation possible to the work to be carried 
on. In these ideas the Board heartily con- 
curred. As granite of an excellent quality 
had been found on the school tract, it was 
decided to use that to a large extent, and 
quarries were opened. 

Ground was broken on the first of May, 
1890. In the presence of several of the 
Trustees, architects and contractors, Mr. H. 
C. Townsend turned over the first earth with 
a shovel, since kept among the school's 
trophies. A large force of men was soon put 
at work excavating, under the contractor, P. 
E. Jeferis, of West Chester. President Shrig- 
ley and Lieutenant Robert Crawford (for 
several years the enthusiastic and popular 
Superintendent of the School) gave the build- 
ing their constant personal attention. On 
Saturday afternoon, November 8th, the 
corner-stone was laid, the Board of Trustees 
being represented by Messrs. Townsend, 
Longstreth, Brooks and Catherwood. A 
copper box in the stone contained a historical 


sketch of the School, and copies of the plans, 
the Will and the Deed of Trust, the names and 
photographs of all the Trustees, and numerous 
writings and newspapers bearing upon the 
history of the enterprise. After Mr. Town- 
send and Mr. Longstreth had placed the stone 
in position, and the latter had made a few 
appropriate remarks regarding Isaiah Wil- 
liamson and his purpose, the masons cemented 
the stone in place, and the visitors inspected 
the grounds and such of the buildings as were 
then in process of erection. 

A year later, in October, 1891, the build- 
ing was completed and ready for occupancy. 
Long before that time there had been many 
applications for admission to the School. Of 
these, seventy-two young men, in ages from 
fifteen to eighteen, had successfully passed 
the entrance examinations, had been enrolled, 
and since September, had been engaged in 
regular study and work. The other buildings 
at this time completed, or nearly so, were the 
engine and boiler house, Shop No. 1, the 
Superintendent's residence, and three cottages. 

The formal opening of the School occurred 
on the 31st of October. A special train from 




Broad Street carried a distinguished company 
of guests. They assembled in the auditorium 
of the Administration building. Samuel B. 
Huey, one of the Trustees, presided, and 
prayer was offered by B. B. Comegys. The 
President of the Board, H. C. Townsend, 
gave a long, carefully prepared and interest- 
ing address, in which he touched upon the 
history of education in Pennsylvania, and 
especially of trade schools; the idea of the 
Williamson School as developed by the donor 
before his death, and the methods of govern- 
ing the Trustees; the life and character of 
Isaiah Williamson from long and intimate 
acquaintance; and an appropriate appeal to 
the young men beginning the work of the 
School's first class. Other addresses were 
made by Professor George F. Baker, of the 
University of Pennsylvania, and by John 
Wanamaker, the latter paying a personal 
tribute of love to Isaiah Williamson and mak- 
ing it very clear that this was an historic day 
in more ways than one. Following the exer- 
cises the guests inspected the new buildings 
with great satisfaction. 

The first commencement occurred on the 


2d of April, 1894. Again a special train 
brought a large company of prominent people, 
including the Governor of the State of Penn- 
sylvania and the Mayor of Philadelphia. Of 
the Trustees, Messrs. Brooks, Catherwood, 
Longstreth, Townsend and Wanamaker were 
present. Gathered in the decorated audi- 
torium, Mr. Wanamaker presided, and made 
the welcoming address, after the opening 
prayer by the Rev. Dr. H. Clay Trumbull. 
Addresses were also made by Governor 
Pattison, Mayor Stuart, Stacy Reeves, presi- 
dent of the Builders' Exchange, and by two 
members of the graduating class. Prizes and 
diplomas were distributed to the fifty-nine 
graduates, whose average age was nineteen. 

This was the forerunner of a series of 
brilliant commencements, honored by the 
presence of eminent men representative of all 
circles of the professions, commerce and trade. 
At the second commencment, in 1895, Gov- 
ernor Hastings made the principal address, 
dwelling upon the history of education in 
Pennsylvania; followed by J. Howard Wil- 
son, president of the Jackson-Sharp Company, 
of Wilmington, who, among other things, said 


that the graduates of the School could always 
find positions in his shops. Addresses in 
similar vein were made by D. M. Anderson, 
president of the Bricklayers' Protective Asso- 
ciation, and George Watson, ex-president of 
the Master Builders' Exchange. At the third 
commencement, 1896, the addresses were 
given by three members of the graduating 
class, Louis H. Coxe, Lyndon H. Wheeler, 
and Harry Barton. The attendance was very 
large in 1897, at the graduation of the fourth 
class. Mr. Brooks presided, and Mr. Wana- 
maker made an address in which he said, in 
urging upon the students to be worthy of their 
election, that Isaiah Williamson, if he knew, 
would never be satisfied to have a thousand 
dollars of his money spent upon a ten-cent 
boy, which seems to have been wrought into 
the fundamental work of the School. Among 
the many distinguished guests present was 
Jacob Tome, who had recently given more 
than a million of dollars to establish a similar 
school at Port Deposit, Maryland. At the fifth 
commencement (1898), Hampton L. Carson 
was the speaker of the occasion. The next 
year, the sixth commencement, 1899, Isaac H. 


Clothier, of the Board of Trustees, made the 
address, among other things taking occasion 
to say that " when the history of this School 
comes to be written, two names will be 
associated side by side — the founder and the 
father, Isaiah V. Williamson; the organizer, 
the godfather, Edward Longstreth." Again 
President Shrigley reported the constantly 
increasing demand for the services of the 
graduates, a point particularly emphasized 
some years later at the tenth commencement, 
by John M. Dodge, president of the Link 
Belt Engineering Works, of Philadelphia, 
who said : " Our firm has employed in the 
past several graduates of the Williamson 
School, and about the only mistake in the 
transaction we can now discover is that we 
did not take more of them." This expressed 
the general attitude in trade circles. At that 
time, President Shrigley again reported that 
it was impossible to supply the demand for 
graduates; that the first hesitation to employ 
them had long since passed away, and for 
years the graduates had usually been engaged 
before they received their diplomas. 

Many letters from graduates are on file, 




telling of their successes and expressing grati- 
tude to the School and its founder, such as 
the following from a machinist: " I am get- 
ting along nicely, making $100 per month, 
and expect an advance soon. I never can thank 
the Williamson School enough for its helping 
hand. I fully realize that it was the moulding 
and making of my life and character. Such 
institutions are scarce in our land, and one 
appreciates the good done by ours." 



|N THE 7th of March, 1889, Isaiah 
V. Williamson journeyed on, and 
after many days, the city in which he 
lived woke to some realization of 
its loss. For eighty-six years he had 
lived most of his days in Philadelphia, and 
yet few knew or cared to know him until the 
last five years of his life. Big men were too 
busy with their own affairs and little men too 
narrow to do more than point to him as a 
shabby, stingy, old man, as if the bent figure 
and clothes were all of the man or as though 
the quoting of some one word or act of his in- 
dicated the whole of the man. The visible is 
not always final. Color blindness to character 
and worth is much more common than the 
ordinary defective vision. There is nothing 
simpler than to judge by appearances and 
burn a human being at the stake of mistaken 

From Fallsington Four Corners' Village 



Store to Philadelphia's foremost place as 
merchant and philanthropist had been a walk 
of upwards of fourscore years. 

From the day he came down the Doyles- 
town and Old York Road turnpike with his 
little bundle of two thousand dollars of sav- 
ings, to begin business in Philadelphia, to the 
day sixty years later, when he went into the 
Fidelity Insurance Trust & Safe Deposit 
Company and voluntarily took out of his iron 
box two million one hundred thousand dollars 
in good securities and handed them over to the 
Trust he had created to establish the new ap- 
prenticeship School for young men, that they 
might ride in his golden chariot of good-will 
and fatherliness to success, was a long journey 
of self-denial, frugality, patience, and tireless 

It would seem as if every man might, in 
his own way, be permitted to study himself 
deeply in peace, especially if the key he seeks 
and finds is to unlock a gate to the betterment 
of the world, in his own day, and the time 
to come for those who follow him. 

The country boy just entering into the city 
today might be another Isaiah V. Williamson, 


with a heart that could do even better work 
than he, if free to choose and use without 
criticism, the sling and stones he can handle 
best to fight his battle. 

How much the little man from Bucks 
County, low in stature, high in thinking, deep 
in feeling, suffered in the forty years of 
dignity, patience and silence while he was in 
the wilderness of public opinion, nobody 
knows. It is only certain that the breath of 
his neighbors, by prejudice and carping, kept 
his thermometer close to zero. The obituaries, 
after the man travelled into the bourne 
beyond, might have added fuller, brighter, 
longer years to his life and enabled him to do 
what he had left undone, if anything like their 
contents could have been published for him to 
see while he was walking through the street, 
conscious of being misunderstood as an unfeel- 
ing speculator, if not forgotten altogether. 

When the right word is spoken, it will help 
and not hurt. The poorest little man that 
lives and does something to help his neighbor 
is more than the finest bronze statue planted 
in the park or on the plaza. It is not the gun, 
but the man behind the gun, that counts. It 


is not the money left by Isaiah Williamson 
but the man back of the money that we want 
to remember. 

All who enjoy such benefactions as this 
earnest Quaker, and men like him, have given, 
under conditions that can be accepted by self- 
respecting young men, should learn to know 
their benefactor well enough to accord him 
much more honor than the mere politeness of 
ordinary gratitude. The man himself can 
become a living friend to every young man 
who will stop to think that the past had in it 
a man who willed his life, his earnings, and 
his example to them in the hope that thereby 
he may make the way of life easier for them. 
Well brought up and cultivated enough to 
enjoy the luxuries of life, he called himself off 
from them to a life of great labor and frugal- 
ity, that he might have the luxury of being 
their servant. 

He set for all young men a splendid 
example in walking as a youth from his 
mother's door to the last day of his life on the 
straight road of unspotted honor, truthfulness 
and highest integrity. A good beginning 
makes a good ending. 


The great musician, Ole Bull, the first 
violinist of his time, when playing at the Royal 
Court, was summoned after one of his match- 
less performances and asked to explain to the 
King where he obtained the harmonies he 
produced upon his instrument. Ole Bull 
replied : " Sire, I got them in the mountains of 
my country when I was a boy and I have never 
forgotten them." Isaiah Williamson never 
for a day of all his long life lost the sweetness, 
gentleness, and dignity of his little country 
Quaker mother, nor did he forget the stalwart, 
rugged manliness, strict honesty, and fairness 
of his father. 

These stood him in good stead all his life. 
He was an upright apprentice and never 
filched his employer's time or goods. He 
committed thefts neither with his tongue nor 
with his hands. His fellow clerks were his 
neighbors' sons ; he valued their good opinion 
and his influence over them. 

He did not let the poison get into the 
spring at the beginning of his life. He started 
by killing bad habits in the germ, by choking 
them in his thoughts when the temptation was 
young. Sure enough, the man that picks a 


lock or breaks open a cash drawer does it first 
in his thoughts before he gets through the 
door where it is. 

Young Williamson despised shams and 
make-believes. He never kept bad company. 
If he could not have friends of the best class, 
he preferred to be without any. 

He planned his life and always worked 
towards the object he had before him. 

There were no riddles in his life. The 
results were answers to tireless thinking and 

At the end of his life, there were no old 
judgments of any kind recorded against him 
to be satisfied or documents to be destroyed. 

The Honorable Wayne MacVeagh, in an 
eloquent address, on the occasion of the dedi- 
cation of the Drexel Institute at Philadelphia, 
said in commendation of Anthony J. Drexel's 
gift, that not a penny of the money given by 
Drexel represented ill-gotten gains. These 
words, so true of Drexel, are absolutely true 
of Isaiah V. Williamson's wealth. 

It is to be remembered, too, that all his 
money was of his own earning. He had not 
inherited any business established by his 


parents. He was the sole architect and maker 
of his own great fortune. 

His methods of business were beyond 
criticism or reproach. While scrupulously 
exact, strictly claiming all that was fairly his 
right, he would take nothing more, always 
keeping clear of enterprises that bordered on 
6harp practices or uncertain foundations, 
counting the loss of possible gains as nothing 
to the risk of staining his good name. 

He had a curious habit of holding up in 
his office the propositions that were made to 
him. Instead of following an impulse or yield- 
ing to importunity for a quick decision, he 
deferred his conclusions by saying, " I must 
take time to think of this a little further." He 
would walk all round the proposition and 
look at it from all sides before he would act. 

Stradivarius, the greatest of violin-makers 
of the olden time, it is said on good authority, 
used to go out into the forests and cut pieces 
of wood from half a hundred trees. These 
pieces he began testing and kept on trying 
until the last vestige of sap dried out and the 
elasticity of the wood became no longer a 
factor. Then he knew the wood. He knew 


that the violin he made would ring true, not 
in the present alone, but in the centuries to 
come. He built his violins to sing down 
through the ages, true and fine and sweet. He 
began right. 

So did Isaiah Williamson begin right and, 
therefore, he was half done when he began. 
He never forgot to complete the details before 
he laid down any work he took up. 

His life was not a drab monotony of 
money-grabbing, as some people supposed. 
Without going too much into detail, it will 
doubtless be of interest to quote a few para- 
graphs from the Philadelphia daily news- 
papers, called forth by Isaiah Williamson's 
brief sickness, sudden death, the failure to sign 
the codicil, and the publication of his will. 

The Evening Telegraph said in its editor- 
ial columns : " When a Rothschild, a Girard, 
or a Williamson dies, it is a public rather 
than a private event. No one would here wish 
in the least to intrude upon privacy; but we 
all know the noble thoughts which have filled 
Mr. Williamson's heart, and what he fully 
meant to do ; — that being the simple fact, the 
desire to know how completely his wishes are 


to be carried out is entirely natural. A short 
time probably will settle all uncertainty, but 
in the meanwhile Philadelphians can unite in 
a feeling commemoration of one of their most 
generous citizens. Nor will the reputation of 
his great undertaking be only local. As the 
name of Girard is national, so will the name 
of Isaiah V. Williamson be familiar all over 
the land as one who loved his fellowmen, and 
who held exceptional wealth only in trust for 
the general good." 

" His plan, it will be observed," said the 
Evening Herald, " was not a scheme of alms- 
giving, as humiliating to honest poverty as it 
would be injurious to the indolent, but was 
intended to help men to use their own energies 
and to aid them in self-reliance and self- 
respect. This is the soul of benevolence, and 
one of the best means whereby men of wealth 
can assist in the onward march of humanity. 
The lesson of the life just ended is complete in 
itself; but should his design of establishing 
his great school be carried on in its fullness, 
thousands Who owe him a happier, fuller life 
will yet call the name of Williamson blessed." 

From several columns in the Philadelphia 


Press, this paragraph is fairly representative: 
" The general idea of Mr. Williamson was 
plainly that he was a miser ; that he lived for 
the sake of money-getting, denying himself all 
luxuries, and even many comforts; that until 
the great project of his industrial school was 
formed and the trust deeds given to the 
trustees his charities were few; and that he 
lived a lonely, crabbed life, loving no one and 
loved by only a few. His intimate friends 
deny all such assertions, and point to the fact 
that he had given nearly a million and a half 
to charities and institutions since 1876, as a 
complete refutation of such statements. It is 
known also that his heart was one of the 
tenderest, and his nature genial. He had a 
streak of humor in him, but his religious 
propensities were never prominent." 

The newspapers printed a number of 
amusing stories, to illustrate his so-called 
" miserliness " in the last few years of his life, 
most of which were either untrue or grossly 
exaggerated, and insofar as true were merely 
eccentricities of what was really a lovable 
old age. He was pictured as a little, weasened 
old man, walking slowly through the streets 


around Bank and Elbow Lane, with bowed 
head and hands behind his back, carrying the 
same old umbrella with its years of associa- 
tions, and plainly absorbed in deep thought. 
It was represented that except on rare 
occasions when he put on his old high hat 
and " best suit " to go to Clover Hill or else- 
where, he was usually seen in the same old 
suit, well worn, even shabby and ragged ; and 
wearing a disreputable derby hat pulled well 
down to his ears, his thin white hair straggling 
out under its brim. And if Henry Lewis, or 
some other intimate friend, ventured a banter- 
ing remark : " I. V., you ought to get a new 
suit of clothes ! " he would remark in the same 
facetious vein: "What's the matter with 
these? Don't they fit me all right? " 

He was described in his little dingy back 
office, on Bank Street, where he spent thirty- 
five years or so, with its plain desk, three or 
four old trunks — relics of the European trip 
— stuffed with records and papers, its bare 
walls, and its general air of being a catch-all 
for rubbish — including the very shabby hand- 
bag in which the particular papers of the day 
were carried back and forth between the office 


and the trust company's vaults. He was pic- 
tured, also, as the strange being who would 
go into a restaurant and get a five-cent lunch, 
or haggle with the woman at the sandwich 
counter to let him have six ten-cent sand- 
wiches, one a day for a week, for a lump sum 
of fifty cents; and then would hasten back to 
his office to sign a check for $5000 or $10,000 
for some charity. 

In a little cubby-hole of a barber shop on 
Elbow Lane, it was said, he used to indulge 
in a weekly shave; but when the barber sug- 
gested that he needed a haircut, he replied 
with infinite gentleness that his niece cut his 
hair twice a year. For other sample stories, 
it was related that when he was summering at 
a hotel in one of the beautiful and fashionable" 
suburbs of Philadelphia toward the end of 
his life, he used to bring back his soiled linen 
wrapped in a newspaper, as he could get his 
laundry done a few cents cheaper in town 
than at the hotel. Also, that when he found 
extortionate bus fare between the hotel and 
the station added to the first week's bill, which 
he had paid in advance, he refused to ride in 
the bus again, and walked back and forth 


every day thereafter, rain and mud to the 
contrary notwithstanding. And attention was 
called to the fact that, although he was 
immensely wealthy, he kept no carriage of his 
own until the very last year or two when he 
was unable to walk, and that he did not incur 
the expense of his own coupe and personal 
attendant until he was simply forced to it by 
his physical feebleness. 

Now, in a way, these very eccentricities of 
old age make his character more interesting, 
and even more lovable. The simple fact is 
that he liked his old clothes ; he liked his old 
office furnished with old desks, trunks and 
shelves, and having the associations of so many 
years. He liked the old umbrella and the 
shabby hand-bag. He felt " at home " with 
them all, just as he felt at home with his old 
friends. And really there is nothing strange 
about this. Old people generally feel that 
way, in their homes as in their offices, not as 
a matter of economy necessarily, but of 
personal comfort and ease of mind. 

No doubt he disliked conventionalities; 
but it is not as if he were slovenly regarding 
personal care of himself. Those who were 


near to him are emphatic on this point. It is 
true that in later years Williamson, find- 
ing that two meals a day agreed better with 
his health, ate usually two or three graham 
wafers or a sandwich at noon. Thousands of 
middle-aged and elderly men today do the 
same thing regularly, not primarily for 
economy but for physical and mental vigor. 
That is what Williamson thought He 
had studied the laws of health in general and 
of his own health in particular; and he used 
to say what is now being so much emphasized 
by scientists, physicians and the people's news- 
papers : " People eat too much ! " 

As to the reply to the barber about having 
his hair cut, even if he ever said it, it is quite 
conceivable that he was having his little joke. 
All through life ran that vein of gentle, quiet 
humor, one of the sure signs of a nature full of 
feeling, and without which it is very doubtful 
if any man can be truly great, least of all a 
philanthropist. Humor lies next to pathos, 
and the one who can appreciate the humorous 
element in life is the one that most quickly 
responds to its pathetic side. 

It was this sense of humor that made him 


instantly responsive to a good story, or led him 
often to express himself in a droll or unex- 
pected way. When he was wheeled into the 
directors' meetings of the big corporations he 
would call out: "A clear track for the 
through express!" Mr. Helmbold says that 
in the frequent visits to the vaults of the safe 
department of a trust company, where he kept 
his securities, he would exclaim to the clerks 
in charge, as he was slowly wheeled in: 
" Make way, make way! Here I come with 
my usual impetuosity! " And there was a 
pathetic touch in his humorous remarks to H. 
C. Townsend toward the end of his life, when 
they met one day in the office of the Cambria 
Iron Company. Isaiah Williamson had in his 
hand a check for $100,000, and when Mr. 
Townsend rallied him on its size, he asked : 

" Do you want to earn that check? " 

" I'm your man! " 

" Make me a young man again! " 

As to the eccentric way in which he pro- 
tested at what he deemed extortion in the 
suburban hotel, there is another side to that 
story, which the papers did not get hold of. 
While he refused to use the hotel's convey- 


ance again, he established a friendship with 
the driver and engaged him to take him on 
short drives in the evening on his own account. 
The fare would be twenty-five or fifty cents, 
according to the time out; but Isaiah Wil- 
liamson invariably gave the driver a dollar, 
on the first occasion explaining his act in such 
words as these : 

" You have earned what you charged me, 
and I have no right to dictate to you what you 
shall do with your earnings. But what I give 
you over your earnings I have earned, and 
have a right to speak about. I don't want you 
to waste it, but take it home to your wife and 
put it to good use." 

The driver has said that this lesson in thrift 
and saving taught him by the eccentric hotel 
guest proved of great help to him in later 
years. And it is fair to presume that this was 
only one of many similar instances of personal 
influence which never came to light. How 
many lives he stimulated in his quiet way we 
have no means of knowing. 

Speaking of his private carriage, it is true 
that in the latter part of his life, until he be- 
came too feeble, he was a confirmed pedes- 


trian. He was fond of walking. Occasionally 
he took a cab or a carriage for some special 
reason, though generally he used the street 
cars if going some distance. But as his 
activities were chiefly confined within a few 
blocks of his office, such as daily visits to the 
Stock Exchange and the trust company, he 
preferred walking as a matter of convenience 
as well as of health. He was simply doing 
what he liked to do, entirely aside from any 
question of economy. That was his old- 
fashioned way, and it was one reason of his 
lengthened vigor and activity. 

An editorial in the Public Ledger of 
April 1 2th, after the inventory of the Wil- 
liamson estate had been filed, ridiculed the 
suggestion of miserliness : " The living man, 
if he is inclined to be ' miserly,' does not give 
away money in millions, in thousands, in hun- 
dreds, or even in tens. The ' miser ' hoards 
money and keeps it; and he hoards it for the 
sole purpose of keeping it as long as he lives 
— just as long as he can. He never gives away 
any of it for charitable purposes or any other. 
What a monstrous misapplication of terms it 
therefore is to couple such words as ' close- 



fisted,' ' mean,' or ' miserly ' with the name of 
Isaiah Williamson, who distributed, while he 
was yet alive and might have had other uses 
for the money, four millions in charitable 
gifts for almost every form of benefaction 
that would relieve the suffering, that would 
help the needy, that would shelter the house- 
less and homeless, that would succor and sup- 
port the helpless, that would stimulate talent 
by education, that would encourage the 
worthy, that would reward merit, that would 
build up industry, that would enlighten and 
uplift the rising generation of working 1 " 

These incidents have been dwelt upon to 
bring Isaiah Williamson's personality more 
vividly to mind, and to show his large-heart- 
edness. To the last there was a certain boyish- 
ness in the standing order to George, his 
attendant and coachman, to buy every Satur- 
day a supply of candy and apples, the candy 
for his master's own use, and the apples for 
the horse. And the story goes that certain 
horses on the street learned to look for his 
coming, to pat their noses and feed them bits 
of broken apple. 

He used to say that no man could be a 


good Christian who was not kind to animals, 
for " Christianity teaches love and kindness 
to man and beast." 

His thoughtfulness also for the men about 
him was well known and characteristic, show- 
ing many kindnesses to such helpers as his 
coachman, and the janitor of the building in 
which he had his office so long. This office 
was in the store of Samuel W. Roop, commis- 
sion merchant, afterward the firm of Roop 
& Washington, and later Billings, Roop & 
Washington. From 1850 to 1881 Mr. Wil- 
liamson was a special partner, or had money 
invested in this firm, under its different names. 
One of the men who entered Roop's store in 
1853, as a young clerk, and met Williamson 
intimately for about thirty years thereafter, 
says that in all those years " he never saw such 
an even and sweet-tempered gentleman" ; and 
he gives a bit of personal experience that is 
illuminating. It seems that along about 1877, 
Williamson noticed that this man appeared 
very despondent, and upon inquiry learned 
that he was worried over certain losses in the 
business, in which he was at this time one of 
the partners. Williamson said to him: 


" Brooding over losses is not the way to 
make money. It unfits you for future busi- 
ness. You must not look back over the gloomy 
past." Going to his safe, Williamson brought 
out a bundle of papers, saying: " That bundle 
represents hundreds of thousands of dollars 
which I have lost — much of it through mis- 
placed confidence in friends. The worst of 
it was, I not only lost the money but in many 
cases the friendship, and yet I never in my life 
sued a man for a debt. And so, of late years, 
I have resolved never to loan a man money 
without taking security; then I am sure not 
to lose both my money and the man's friend- 
ship. But I am going to break this rule with 
you, my friend. Tell me how much money 
you need to tide you over, and you shall have 

All this shows that the way in which the 
Philadelphia Record pictured Mr. William- 
son the year before he died is the more accu- 
rate delineation. Its sketch closes in this way : 
" As a capitalist he has been identified with a 
large number of commercial, financial and 
railroad enterprises. In all he has been a 
director. That he has been earnestly solicited 


to accept the presidency of many, that his 
remarkable executive ability, his singular 
magnetic influence, and his unswerving integ- 
rity have been appreciated, everybody knows; 
but his refusal as a rule to take the first 
place is interesting because it is the key 
to the man's nature. That nature may be read 
in a face which retains in a surpassing degree 
its original sweetness and purity of expression. 
The marks with which the battle of business 
life scars most faces, can be traced in his only 
in the ' busy wrinkles,' not ' round ' but at the 
corners of ' the eyes.' Intelligence of a high 
order, with blended firmness and gentleness, 
are to be read in Mr. Williamson's features, 
and in his expression the simplicity and 
modesty which have ever made distasteful to 
him all display, whether of the wealth he has 
amassed or the millions he has already be- 
stowed in charity." 

There are not many ten talent men to be 
found in one's lifetime, here and there one of 
two talents and the majority of men possess 
but one talent or even a half talent, much out 
of repair from non-use. The story of Isaiah 


Williamson's life is the word of an honest 
man, speaking modestly and kindly to us, say- 
ing, " Here is what I did with my one talent. 
I found myself with few tools but I made all 
the use of them possible for nearly a century. 
My first books were the fields and forests and 
my first and best teachers were the Quaker 
mother and father, whose lessons of principle 
and practice were the sheet anchors of my life. 
They knew what a shy boy needed and they 
gave it to me, not so much in words as in 
deeds; it was their gentleness, patience and 
religion, of which they never spoke, that I 
absorbed in our home more than anything in 
the Fallsington Meeting House or St. Peter's 
Church, at Third and Pine Streets. From 
them I learned not to be idle, not to hurry and 
how to work and to save. They taught me 
that the way to have anything to spend or give 
away was to first put it into storage and never 
to take out as much as I put in. 

" From a godly father and mother, I 
learned that looking silently and inwardly at 
myself, I would find a light from heaven and 
that meditation led to prayer and guidance. 


" I found that obedience to the truth given 
to me answered my desire to be shown the 
path for my life. 

" So did my mother's and father's hands 
rest upon my head all my long life. My call- 
ing was only to do common things, which I 
tried to do humbly, but in an uncommon way. 
My work was to me as sacred as it would 
have been had I been called to teach or work 
upon canvas or stone. 

" When I fully understood the talent I 
possessed, I regarded it as a crowning of 
power, not for self, and I consecrated it to 
Him who gave it to me to uplift the man and 
boy next to me as far as I could reach. 

" In my business life, I never used my 
sickle to cut down a fellow man. I never lent 
a hand to help scuttle another's ship. 

" I never made haste to be rich. 

" I nursed the money-making instinct as 
God's gift and rooted myself where it grew as 
the one thing given to me to study and work 
with, but I lived in another room without 
idols of any kind. 

" To me, great riches meant more hos- 


pitals, homes for aged and incurables, more 
schools and colleges, institutions for industrial 

So speaks the little man of large soul out of 
the solitariness of his life ; but for every man 
good and true, young or old, struggling to do 
his best work, there is an open door between 
earth and heaven. 

A well-known Englishman, maker of tiles 
and pottery, who had risen from poverty to 
wealth, built for himself a magnificent palace 
in the midst of a great park of forest trees and 
botanical gardens. His fences were made 
with open gates that his many work-people 
might go in and out and enjoy the noble house 
and its grounds, fountains, pavilions and gal- 
leries, and find pleasure and education in its 

Mr. Williamson has built nobly and none 
need go away without a piece of wholesome 



In the original project of his biography 
Mr. Wanamaker intended to include volu- 
minous extracts from the diaries and family 
correspondence of Isaiah Williamson. But 
in the end he decided to include as an appen- 
dix only a few letters, written between 1876 
and 1879. These, he felt, would illustrate the 
human side of Isaiah Williamson at a time 
when the writer of the letters was growing old 
and had amassed great wealth. 

Philada., Feby. I2th, 1876. 

Dear Brother: — 

I have been thinking that during the winter is per- 
haps the best time to buy a Horse, and if you think " old 
Black " will not be able to do duty the coming Summer, 
I wish to propose to you that if you will buy a good, 
quiet, safe and suitable Horse for such old fellows as 
you and I to ride behind, at a price not exceeding $200, 
that I will pay for him. I at first thought I would say 
"buy a Horse and I will pay for him," but then it 
occurred to me that you might go and buy a $20,000 
Horse that would trot a mile in two minutes or less, 
which neither of us would feel at home in riding after; 
in truth such an one might take us a great way from home 
contrary to our wishes. Then the question arises, if you 
get another Horse what will be done with " old Black." 



You would not like to sell him for fear he might get into 
possession of some Huckster of Fish or other things, who 
would not appreciate him as we do, and starve and abuse 
him ; and I do not suppose you would like to kill him ; so 
the question to me is difficult of solution. 

I heard from brother John's widow a few days since 
who, in acknowledging receipt of check sent her, stated 
they were all well. 

The weather here today is delightful and makes us 
think of the near approach of Spring. When I next visit 
" Clover Hill " I expect it will be by the new R. R., — 
as they expect to commence running during April, the 
" Frog and Bridge War " to the contrary notwithstand- 
ing. Give my love to Anna Mary and Emily, and tell 
Anna Mary I should like to have a letter from her. 
Your affectionate Brother 

I. V. Williamson. 

(The " Frog and Bridge War " mentioned in this letter, is 
a reference to the effort which the Pennsylvania Railroad was 
making to prevent the new Bound Brook line from running 
between Philadelphia and New York.) 

Philadelphia, Oct. nth, 1876. 

Dear Brother: — 

Please meet Clinton and myself at Langhorne Station 
on Saturday next (14th inst.) at 4 O'clock P. M., as we 
expect to be there by that time. 

I was at the " Centennial Exhibition " this morning, 
and " finished it up " in precisely 2 hours and 35 minutes. 
Talk about spending 3 or 4 weeks on it is all humbug; 
there is nothing like going at it in earnest and doing it up 
at once. Yours affectionately, 

I. V. Williamson. 

1 62 


Philada., Feby. 24, 1877. 

My dear Anna Mary: — 

For a long time past I have been counting the months, 
weeks, and even the days, until the weather will probably 
be pleasant enough for me to visit " Clover Hill." I 
long to see Nature in her New Spring Bonnet and Dress. 
Although she makes no change in Colors and Styles from 
year to year, with Bustles, Chignons, etc., as do our Fash- 
ionable Chestnut St. Belles, still her style is always neat, 
in good taste, and beautiful. I think she must belong to 
" Friends Meeting." 

I never could understand why so many people sacri- 
fice time, talent and money to obtain Copies of Nature, 
when the originals which ought to be, and are, so much 
more beautiful, are open and free to all without money 
and without price. What I refer to more particularly 
is that numbers of persons will travel all over Europe 
visiting the different Galleries for the purpose in a great 
measure of seeing the most celebrated Pictures, many of 
which are Landscapes and Marine Views, while in 
numerous cases they pass by the originals (in seeking the 
Copies) without even a passing notice. Suppose one of the 
most celebrated Artists of Europe, or of the World, were 
to paint a Landscape from a view taken on the line of Rail 
Road between this City and Pittsburg where thousands of 
persons pass daily, and place the Copy on exhibition in 
this City, there would probably be ten persons to see the 
Copy where there would be one that would see, or look 
for, the original; and what makes it the more surprising 
that this should be so, is that God is the Author and Man 
the Artist. 

I often think of the old adage, " Once a man and 



twice a child" and how fully it has been verified in 
my own case. When I first left home, and for many, 
very many years thereafter, nothing gave me so much 
real pleasure and enjoyment as to visit Home; but after 
becoming immersed in business this Home feeling grad- 
ually died out, and for a long time I felt very little 
interest in the scenes of my boyhood. But now this Home 
feeling is returning stronger and stronger every year, and 
for the present and sometime past nothing gives me more 
real pleasure than to visit Home, which I now call 
" Clover Hill." 

I have received several letters from you since I last 
wrote, and I assure you they have given me a great deal 
of pleasure; the first letter opened when I receive my mail 
is the one with the " Oxford Valley P.O." stamp, should 
there fortunately be one such. 

Write whenever you have time, and do not wait for 
me, as my time is so fully occupied that I have very little 
time for anything but business. I would like to receive 
a letter from you every week. 

Yours affectionately, 

I. V. Williamson. 

Philada., Mch. 16, 1877. 

My Dear Anna Mary: — 

What's in a name ? They say " A Rose by any other 
name would smell as sweet." I was forcibly reminded 
of this a few days since when called upon to sign a peti- 
tion to the North Penna. R.R. authorities to establish a 
Station at " Glen Lake." I was not in the office when the 
party called ; he left the Paper, and when I signed it I 
said to Clinton that I had never heard of a Lake in that 



vicinity and thought it must be a " Mill Pond " ; which 
sure enough the party when he returned for the Paper 
said it was somebody's " Mill Pond." I suppose the Glen- 
Lakeians intend to erect there a fine Hotel and make it a 
fashionable watering place; and instead of going to 
Atlantic City or Cape May during the Summer I can 
visit Glen Lake every other week, to bathe in its pure 
waters and amuse myself in Fishing for Bull Frogs, etc., 
and sailing on its placid waters. Of course they will 
have Sail-Boats, Yachts, etc., for the accommodation of 
visitors. How convenient it will be for me particularly, 
and I feel grateful to its projectors. 

I think the old Residents of the County would under- 
stand the location better if the Glen Lakers had con- 
nected the name of a former owner of the Mill-Dam 
with their Lake — as " Lake-Carlisle," " Lake Sutton," 
" Lake-Satterthwaite," etc. ; then I for one would know 
pretty near where to find them. 

When it is generally known by residents of the City 
that you have a " Glen Lake " in your vicinity, con- 
venient of access by Rail Road, I should not be surprised 
if there would be a great demand for building sites for 
summer residences on the margin of Glen Lake; indeed 
it may increase the value of Land for miles around. Tell 
your Papa he ought to increase the price of " Clover 
Hill " ten dollars per acre at least. 

Your last Letter of the 26th ultimo was duly received, 
for which I feel most grateful. Write soon again and 
often, telling me all the news, particularly about the suc- 
cess of the subscriptions to the new Reading Room, 
Library, etc., etc. 

My general health is very good, and I am looking 
forward to the coming of warm and pleasant weather 


with fond anticipation. It is now snowing here a little 
— I suppose the commencement of the annual " St. 
Patrick Day's storm." 

Remember me to Emily ; tell " Old Black " I long 
to see him; and believe me 

Yours very affectionately, 

I. V. Williamson. 

Philada., Jany. 28, 1878. 

My dear Anna Mary : — 

Your most welcome Letters have all been received, 
and I feel and confess that I have been very remis8 
(unexcusably so) in not replying to them as a faithful 
and prompt correspondent should have done; but you 
know the ordinary excuse of business men for neglecting 
such duties, and you must allow me to avail myself of 
that, although I do not think that in many cases it is suffi- 
cient. However if you really knew the great pleasure it 
gives me to receive a Letter from " Clover Hill," I will 
tell you what I think you would do; you would say to 
yourself, " Well ! there is that old Bachelor uncle of mine 
whose time is fully occupied with business matters, and 
who / know fully appreciates my Letters. I don't think 
I can do anything better than to afford him the pleasure of 
receiving one every two weeks at least, even if he should 
(for want of time) neglect to answer them." And then 
to confirm the arrangement, I will imagine I hear one 
foot fall heavily to the floor, accompanied with the expres-' 
sion, " I'll do it." It is rather a one-sided bargain, but 
under all the circumstances I hope and believe you will 
come to the conclusion to carry it out to the Letter, or 
Letters. As a general thing I have really been very busy 


since I saw you last, and I find that Age is beginning to 
claim its rights, as I discover that I cannot accomplish as 
much in the same time as I could thirty years ago. 

I think of you all every day almost {not excepting 
"old Black") and imagine you all seated in the cosy little 
Sitting Room around thestove (excepting " old Black") 
discussing the news of the day and wondering if there 
will be Ice enough this winter to fill the " Ice House." It 
really begins to look a little dubious, although I believe 
some Ice has been gathered here from the Ponds during 
the last cold " snap." 

My health thus far during the winter has been gen- 
erally good; we have had as yet very little cold weather 
and scarcely any Snow. I suppose in the Country you are 
obliged to substitute mud for snow. 

I visit Cousin Peter's about once a week; they are as 
well as usual. Had I known two or three days before 
Christmas that it would be as pleasant and mild as it 
proved to be, I think I should have written your Papa to 
meet me at Woodburn Station on that morning. 

I enclose the result of Mr. Shaeffer's experience in 
raising different kinds of Potatoes, thinking perhaps your 
Papa may wish to avail himself of it before I see him. I 
did not receive it until after my last visit to the Country. 

Oh! how I long for the time when I can write your 
Papa, " Please meet me at Woodburn on Saturday next, 
etc., etc." I like Springtime in the Country, with its 
Green Fields and Trees, and Singing Birds, and particu- 
larly its necessary accompaniment, " Warm Weather." 

I hope you will ratify and confirm my proposed 
arrangement by writing soon and very often to your most 
affectionate Old Uncle. 



Remember me most kindly to Emily, and I hope it 
will not be very long before we all meet again at " Clover 
Hill " and have a drink together of " Lemonade with 
Ice " — Adieu. 

I. V. Williamson. 

(Y 2 past 7 P.M. at office) 
Philada., Feby. 27, 1879. 

My dear Anna Mary: — 

Your most welcome letter of 19th Inst., as well as 
many others of previous dates, have all been reed., and 
you may be assured have all been highly appreciated. My 
Conscience smites me when I receive your Letters and 
think that you are doing all the correspondence for my 
exclusive benefit, without any return whatever on my 
part ; and can only offer the old and stale excuse, which I 
fear you are heartily tired of hearing, that I am and have 
been very busy since I last saw you. I have quite as much 
or more to do than heretofore, but the great trouble now 
is that it takes me much longer to do the same amount of 
business than it required a few years ago; my sight is 
failing and am getting old; the 4th Feby. was my 76th 
Birthday. However, my general health is good and has 
been during the winter; scarcely a day but I have been 
able to attend to business; for all which I feel extremely 
thankful. You have kept me posted in regard to the Library 
and I agree with you fully in regard to the name of the 
" Hall," which had I been consulted would have objected 
to decidedly. I think of you all daily and am count- 
ing the months, weeks, and even the days, when I shall 
have the pleasure of seeing you. I have thought a great 
deal about your suggested visit to " Florida " to spend a 



winter. Wouldn't it be nice, or even as the Boys say, 
" Bully," for us seven (I mean you and your Papa, Emily, 
myself, Old Black, Minnie and Grant) 1 to go down there 
and take a little Cottage to spend the winter. If I had 
the leisure I think it would be well worth taking into 
serious consideration. Having a Cottage or even a Log 
House to ourselves we should be perfectly independent, 
particularly so as we should have our own Horse, Cat and 
Dog. In a little over two months now, if nothing occurs 
to prevent, you will be received every two weeks Letters 
saying, " Please meet me at Woodburn Station on Satur- 
day P.M.," signed I. V. Williamson. 

P.S. Write often and keep me informed of all that 
is transpiring, as I feel a great interest in all that is going 
on in "old Bucks." 

Yours affectionately, 

I. V. W. 

1 " Minnie " was the cat, and " Grant " the dog. 


Sources from which Mr. Wanamaker 
drew the data for the life of his old friend 
were many and varied. Aside from his visits 
to Bucks County, his general reading on the 
subject of Philadelphia and its mercantile life 
in the decades immediately preceding his own 
career, and his personal contact with Isaiah 
Williamson, the biographer's sources were 
as follows : 

1. Diaries and letters of Isaiah V. Williamson. 

2. Notes by Mr. Helmbold, Mr. Williamson's secretary, 

concerning his employer's habits and philanthropies. 

3. Mr. Wanamaker's own autograph notes of conversa- 

tions with Alfred Helmbold, and Frank William- 
son, " regarding Isaiah V. Williamson." 

4. Ms. biographical data of Williamson family, includ- 

ing many letters, and the will of William William- 
son, filed January 22, 1721. 

5. Account book of Isaiah V. Williamson. 

6. Collection of mementoes of Isaiah V. Williamson. 

7. One bound scrap book containing numerous news- 

paper clippings about Isaiah V. Williamson, and 
packages of news articles of various dates. 

8. Collection of biographical data prepared by the 

Evening Telegraph staff at the time of Mr. 
Williamson's death in 1889. 




9. Mass of data concerning the will of Isaiah V. 

10. Correspondence concerning the -foundation and early 

history of the Williamson School, in which Mr. 
Wanamaker played an active role. 

1 1. Collection of pamphlets, catalogues, and other printed 

matter concerning the Williamson School from its 
foundation to the date the biography was written.